Miss. SC reverses approval of $2.88 billion coal plant project

Jessica M. Karmasek Mar. 16, 2012, 11:30am

JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - The Mississippi Supreme Court, in a ruling Thursday, reversed a lower court's approval of a $2.88 billion coal plant project in the state.

Mississippi Power Company, Southern Company's smallest utility, had applied to the state's Public Service Commission for permission to proceed with construction of its new facility and to begin assessing the cost of construction to its current customers.

The company has already started building the integrated gasification combined cycle, or IGCC, power plant in Kemper County, about 30 miles north of Meridian, Miss.

The plant uses a design called TRIG technology, which produces gas that can be used to produce electricity while making it easier to remove emissions, such as carbon dioxide, that otherwise would end up in the atmosphere.

A unique feature of the technology, the company says, is that it sends lignite that is not converted to gas in the initial process back for a second round of gasification.

This allows a high rate of lignite-to-gas conversion to take place at a lower temperature and lower cost than other gasification technologies, the company says.

The Sierra Club opposed the project before the PSC; however, the PSC entered an order in favor of the power company.

The Harrison County Chancery Court later affirmed the commission's order. The Sierra Club appealed.

The state's high court, in a unanimous decision, said the PSC did not provide evidence to support its decision allowing the company to start charging ratepayers.

"When the Commission grants authority for such projects, Mississippi law requires it to make findings supporting its decision; and, according to the statute, the Commission's findings must be 'supported by substantial evidence presented' which 'shall be in sufficient detail to enable [this] court on appeal to determine the controverted questions presented, and the basis of the commission's conclusion.'

"We find the Commission's approval of the project fails to satisfy this requirement, so we reverse the chancery court's judgment and the Commission's order and remand to the Commission for further proceedings," Presiding Justice Jess H. Dickinson wrote for the Court.

The Sierra Club, which calls the project "dirty," "expensive" and "unnecessary," said it was pleased with the Court's ruling.

"This is a great day for Mississippi ratepayers and the people of Kemper County who have fought long and hard to preserve their way of life," Louie Miller, director of the club's Mississippi chapter, said in a statement.

According to Reuters, a number of other IGCC projects have been canceled due to technical problems and high costs.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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