Energy

Mississippi Clean Coal Plant Touted By Obama Admin Plagued With Inefficiency, Secrets

(REUTERS/Jim Urquhart/File)

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Craig Boudreau Vice Reporter
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A ‘clean coal’ plant in Mississippi the Obama administration touted as an answer to global warming is now two years behind schedule, billions of dollars over its initial budget, and under a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation for allegations of fraud.

The Kemper coal plant in Mississippi was touted as the first commercial scale ‘clean coal‘ power plant in the United States, meaning it was capable of capturing and storing its own carbon dioxide emissions. A Tuesday article from The New York Times shows just how bad things have gotten at Kemper.

“It has nothing to do with the design, it has nothing to do with the technology, it just has to do with poor project management,” Landon Lunsford, a plant engineer said in a conversation with whistleblower, Brett Wingo last year. “As long as they can talk away the results as attributable to something else other than just poor performance, the other public service commissions can’t hold them over the fire as much.”

The problem has gotten so bad that the Securities and Exchange Commission has initiated an investigation into why a project that was slated to cost $2.9 billion now costs $6.7 billion and is still not operational. The company that runs the coal plant, Southern Company, is also being sued by Mississippi businesses who are concerned that the fact the project is so far over-budget may mean higher prices for its customers.

“The people of south Mississippi are struggling,” Michael Avenatti, the lawyer representing the customers told the Wall Street Journal in a recent interview. “They can least afford to be saddled with this boondoggle.” The piece goes on to say how due to the cost overruns, Southern Company also recently saw its credit rating downgraded by Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service.

The plant has some backers still standing up for it though, federal energy officials claim that for a project of this size it is ‘inevitable’ that it run over-budget and past deadline, further claiming bad weather, labor shortages and design uncertainties are responsible for the delays.

Brett Wingo, an engineer for the Kemper plant, is a whistleblower who first exposed the issues. “I’ve reached a personal tipping point and feel a duty to act,” Wingo said in a email from 2014. Wingo was able to find other engineers from the Kemper plant who think the delays and cost overruns are directly related to ‘mismanagement or fraud’.

Wingo also sent a letter to Southern’s CEO telling the company that the publicized open date was ‘not realistic’, but nothing came of it. Wingo was eventually ordered to stay silent on the matter.

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