The 3-4 Billion Dollar Kemper "Clean Coal" Power Plant
By Thomas Baldwin, Biloxi, MS
February 4, 2013
Definition: Corporate Fascism (or Corporatism) is a term usually attributed to Benito Mussolini in Italy from the 1930s and is otherwise just described as Fascism. It implies the merger of corporate power with that of the "state" or
Lightghouse by Public domain--an image of an actual stamp
the government. Now we often dismiss that as just "lobbying" but in the past it has also been associated with "bribery." In short Fascism is total control of the people by corporate influence that is not in anyone's benefit except the corporate power. America is becoming a Corporatist nation.
PURPOSE OF ESSAY
It is my purpose to illustrate a specific example of this practice in the State of Mississippi (MS). This will be just one important illustration of this subject but will be specific to something that is imminent and critical in MS. The focus will be the MS Power/Southern Co. Kemper Coal Power Plant. Though this may seem to be insignificant to many who are not familiar with it, let me put it in perspective.
HISTORY: First the Kemper Coal Plant was presented as a "Clean Coal" electricity-generating plant at an initial cost of about 2 billion dollars and to represent state-of-the-art technology in converting coal to gas with the purpose of generating electricity. It would use lignite coal in MS (the lowest heat content, dirtiest coal available) and convert it to gas to drive the turbines and generate electrical power. It had been tested on a much smaller scale in Alabama by the Southern Co. with money made available by the federal Department of Energy for those experiments. When the opportunity to do "clean coal" became available to expand that commercially, the Southern Co. jumped forward and said "let us do it." They tried to sell it to the State of Florida but the state said no thanks. Then Governor Barbour of MS stepped up and said "we'll do it in MS." About 300 million dollars in federal funds was made available and the promise of loan guarantees.
But no private sources wanted to invest in this risky idea with Southern. So Mr. Barbour, who had been a lobbyist for the Southern Co. prior to his becoming Governor of MS in 2003, said "I'll arrange for a way to do it." A law has just passed in the state legislature in 2008 to allow the Public Service Commission to permit public utilities such as MS Power Co. to charge the entire costs of construction of this monstrosity to the ratepayers in their district whether the plant generated electricity or not! It is referred to as the "Baseload Act". Also the Southern Co. (MS Power's parent) could benefit from selling their technology all over the world. Now that's a sweetheart deal, huh? The magnitude of this project was much bigger than the sales or assets of MS Power (about a billion) and nearly equivalent to about 60% of the annual budget of the State of MS.
THE SIERRA CLUB INVOLVEMENT
The Sierra Club of MS under the able leadership of its director, Louie Miller, attempted to intervene and challenge this scheme almost from the start. The Sierra Club has been immensely successful in their challenges through the courts, not simply based upon environmental reasons, but from the false representations of the MS Power Co. and the complicity of two of the three members of the Public Service Commission (PSC), Leonard Bentz and Lynn Posey. The commercialization of the technology had not been proven; it was much more expensive than alternatives; and it would be destructive to the environment.
But also, the MS Supreme Court in early 2012 by a record 9-0 decision ruled that the decision the PSC had made by a 2-1 vote to approve the plant costs from 2.44 billion to 2.88 billion was improper and thus placed the license to continue in doubt.
But MS Power Co. and the PSC have persisted and ignored the MS Supreme Court's decision and they agreed in a previously unannounced meeting on January 24, 2013, to approve an agreement that allowed MS Power to proceed with construction and present rate increases to pay for the plant at the limit of 2.44 billion. And MS Power had a plan to pay for the increased costs by presenting legislation to allow for bonds to pay additional cost overruns that were now obvious. Needless to say, their stockholder investors were not about to pay for this! The MS Supreme Court had scheduled previously a case only four days later on January 28 to consider a challenge to the constitutionality of the original 2008 Baseload Act bill. This was the legislative bill that allowed a utility to be able to charge ratepayers for "Work Construction in Progress", which was MS Power's intent by increasing ratepayers monthly rates.
THE RESPONSE OF MS POWER AND THE PSC
Simultaneously, on January 21, 2013, there were two identical bills introduced in both branches of the state legislature: SB2755 and HB1134. Those copies can be seen at these links and as one can see they are IDENTICAL.