Four years of legal challenges by the Sierra Club to Mississippi Power’s Kemper County Coal Plant ended in a landmark legal settlement on August 4, 2014. The agreement brings $15 million in energy efficiency and clean energy investments to the state, sets the stage for homeowners to install solar power and requires power plants in Gulfport, Mississippi and Greene County, Alabama to stop burning coal over the next 20 months.
Phasing out coal at the 870 megawatt Plant Watson in Mississippi and the 500 megawatt Greene County power plant in Alabama will reduce air and water pollution and make significant improvements to air quality in the region. The Greene plant, sitting only 60 miles away from Kemper County, is more than 40 years old and produces substantially more pollution than the Kemper plant will when operating. The net result of the settlement will see huge overall reductions in air pollution that will lead to fewer asthma attacks in children, fewer emergency room visits and improved quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people. The agreement also provides millions to assist low income customers of Mississippi Power in making their homes more efficient.
Clean energy demonstration projects for schools and charities will demonstrate the affordability and benefits of solar power for Mississippi. In the last few years, the low cost of new solar projects in Georgia prompted state regulators to push Georgia Power to more than double its solar investments. The agreement also commits that Mississippi Power will not oppose reasonable measures to make solar energy more affordable for homeowners. The Public Service Commission is currently conducting studies to issue new regulations for solar and other distributed generation technologies.
The agreement also secures a binding commitment from Mississippi Power to strengthen flood protections at water retention ponds at the lignite mine adjacent to the plant. The new walls at the retention ponds must be able to withstand a 100-year flood event, preventing toxic pollution from contaminating groundwater and local waterways. The company must also minimize mining operation impacts on local traffic for Kemper County residents.
The Sierra Club has challenged the Kemper plant from its inception, building an unprecedented coalition of Mississippi Power customers in Central and Southern Mississippi, homeowners and Kemper County residents, low-income and environmental justice advocates. The Sierra Club’s witnesses accurately predicted the cost overruns and delays that have plagued the plant. The Sierra Club successfully challenged the Kemper plant’s first construction permit, winning a unanimous decision from the Mississippi Supreme Court. After the ruling, the state Public Service Commission rushed to issue a new permit to Mississippi Power to allow the company to continue construction work on the plant. The Sierra Club challenged the new permit, since state regulators had failed to address key issues of costs and alternatives.
The settlement also provides $2 million to protect habitat for the critically endangered Mississippi gopher frog, and Sierra Club will work to name this new preserve in honor of Sierra Club leader Linda St. Martin, the heart and soul of our work in coastal Mississippi, who recently passed away.
The Kemper plant’s total cost now stands at $5.6 billion, more than twice its original projected price of $2.4 billion for 582 megawatts of power generation. Nationwide, 171 coal-fired power plants have been slated for retirement as coal continues its decline and clean energy solutions, like wind, solar and energy efficiency, grow to power more and more American homes and businesses. The Kemper County coal plant is the only coal-fired plant to break ground during the Obama Administration, and due to the increasing cost of coal and rapidly declining costs of clean energy, is likely to be the last coal-fired power plant ever built in the United States.