Meridian Star

October 28, 2012

Construction on track at lignite power plant

By Terri Ferguson Smith /
Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — Work on Mississippi Power's new lignite-fired power plant in Kemper County is near the half way mark.

    Construction on the power plant is expected to be completed in May, 2014, company officials said.

    During a tour of the site on Wednesday, Stacy Miles, Kemper County Energy Facility project manager, said work is going well.

    "We have met some pretty significant milestones over the last few weeks," Miles said, "a portion of those being the lift and installation of a few of the gasifier components. There are a total of 18 lifts that will occur and we are about a third of the way through with those lifts."

    An abundance of Mississippi lignite located adjacent to the plant site will be gasified to create energy for customers for the next 40 years, company officials said.

    Strict environmental controls are also in place, according to Jeff Shepard, communications coordinator, who explained that byproducts from the gasification process will be removed and sold.

    "One of the unique aspects of this project is the fact the CO2, the sulphuric acid, and ammonia will be removed and cleaned up in the gasification process and all three of those byproducts will be sold to companies in Mississippi." Shepard said. "The revenue that Mississippi Power makes off the sale of those byproducts does not go back to the company's bottom line.

    "It is directly returned back to our customers, lowering the overall cost of the power plant, over the life of the power plant. That's one of the major economic benefits of this project."

    Revenue from the sale of the byproducts will lower the overall costs for customers by approximately $50 million annually once the plant is in service, company officials said.

    Construction materials waiting to be used are in lay-down yards, which Johnny W. Atherton, vice president for external affairs, described as an outdoor warehouse. It's a matter of logistics, he said.

    "We have people who know where every little part is," Atherton said. "You know what's there, it better be there when you need it or it's going to hold up something else."

    Time is money, he said, and part of staying within the construction budget is staying on time.

    Atherton explained the process by which the lignite is turned into electricity.

    "It's mined and delivered by truck to a lignite delivery facility. It's placed in a hopper. The lignite comes from a lignite delivery facility into the gasifier. The gasifier is what changes the state of that solid fuel into gas," Atherton said. "It goes through a chemical process to do that. Then you have a gas clean-up area where various constituents are removed from the gas.

    "Once it is cleaned up, it can be used in the generator. The lines carry that electricity back to our system which is south of here down in Lauderdale County."

    And lignite is plentiful, he said.

    "This country has more coal, on a BTU basis, than the Middle East has oil. It is a part of this country's economic strength — access to that low-cost fuel," Atherton said. "But because of the environmental regulations and our need to protect the environment going forward, we have to find a way to use coal in a much more environmentally friendly way.

    "What you see here is that coming into fruition. We, quite frankly, expect that this technology will be the standard for the use of coal for power generation in the future."

    The project is creating up to 3,000 direct and indirect jobs during construction and more than 300 permanent positions. More than 250 Mississippi companies are providing construction, equipment, material or professional services on the project.