The Southern Company on Wednesday effectively gave up on an ambitious “clean coal” project, announcing that a flawed coal-fired power plant in central Mississippi would now burn natural gas instead.
The Kemper County plant, built to take advantage of a strip coal mine next door, was three years behind schedule and, at a cost of about $7.5 billion, $4 billion over its projected budget. Equipment meant to turn the coal into gas and remove at least two-thirds of the carbon dioxide from it to keep it out of the atmosphere never worked as designed.
Last week, the Mississippi Public Service Commission issued an ultimatum about the troubled project, setting a deadline of July 6 to begin negotiations on its future and recommending that it run on natural gas. The commission had proposed that most of the billions of dollars in losses from the plant be absorbed by shareholders, not by electricity ratepayers.
The lignite coal that is mined adjacent to the Kemper County plant emits more climate-warming carbon…