DEKALB — As the Kemper project goes on, Southern also is at work on two additional nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle (VOH'-gohl), about 30 miles southeast of Augusta, Ga. The $14 billion project will be funded in part by $6 million from Southern subsidiary Georgia Power Co. Southern also owns Alabama Power Co. and Florida's Gulf Power Co.
"Vogtle and Kemper County, even despite where gas prices are today, are exceedingly attractive resources for the future," Fanning told The Associated Press.
The plants reflect Southern's decision not to become overly reliant on natural gas. Fanning argues gas can't be expected to remain cheap for decades, the lifecycle utilities consider for power plants. How Kemper and Vogtle turn out are likely to define Fanning's legacy, as the company stated in the last chapter of a 534-page history it published last year entitled "Big Bets." The book, published for Southern's 100-year anniversary, is meant to encapsulate past lessons for future leaders.
Part of that past has been coal. Five years ago, 70 percent of Southern's power came from coal, with only 11 percent from natural gas. The company now generates 35 percent of its power from coal and 47 percent from gas.
But given federal regulations against carbon dioxide emissions, few utilities are now building coal plants.
Southern's response at Kemper is to convert the coal to a gas, strip out carbon dioxide and other hazardous chemicals, and burn the gas for power.
Southern expresses confidence in technology developed and tested at Wilsonville, Ala. But Burns & Roe, the engineering firm that warns the Kemper's cost will top $3 billion, warns "there is still a technology risk," partly associated with scaling up the gasifier to Kemper's larger size.
The company would sell the carbon dioxide to be pumped into the ground for energy companies seeking to push up more oil from old oil fields.