Miss. Power Co. announces start of gasifier at Kemper plant

 Miss. Power Co. announces start of gasifier at Kemper plant

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi Power Co. announced Monday that it had fired up gasifiers at its Kemper County power plant for the first time.

It's another step by the unit of the Atlanta-based Southern Co. (NYSE: SO) toward moving the $6.2 billion plant to being fully operational by the end of June 2016. The gasifier is meant to take soft lignite coal and turn it into a gas that will be burned, like natural gas, to make electricity. The company said that it plans to start using lignite in the gasifier later this year.

""It is exciting to see more than 20 years of engineering and testing now taking shape at this first-of-its-kind facility," Joe Miller, Kemper startup manager, said in a statement.

The plant has actually been making electricity since August, using natural gas from a pipeline to fuel its three turbines.

Spokesman Jeff Shepard said that until the gasifier is fully operational, Mississippi Power will have a series of test runs to clean and prepare piping leading from the gasifier to the turbines. The company will also use sand to evaluate how solid material in the gasifier unit behaves like a fluid.

Once the gasifier is fully operational, Mississippi Power expects to chemically extract carbon dioxide and other pollutants from the plant's exhaust.

Spokesman Jeff Shepard said the first burner was lit on Sunday and the second one on Monday.

A contractor has already been mining lignite since June 2013 and is stockpiling it.

Mississippi Power has 186,000 customers from Meridian to the Gulf Coast

Customers are already paying 18 percent higher rates for Kemper, although payment plans for the plant have been thrown into doubt by a recent state Supreme Court ruling that overturned certain Public Service Commission actions and ordered refunds.

The plant and associated lignite coal mine were originally supposed to cost $2.8 billion.

The utility is on track to absorb about $2 billion in overruns, as well as $133 million in federal tax credits that the company is forgoing.

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