Kemper Project

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Kemper Project
Kemper Project Construction.png
Kemper Project is located in Mississippi
Kemper Project
Location of Kemper Project in Mississippi
Official name Kemper County energy facility
Country United States
Location Kemper County, Mississippi
Coordinates 32°39′4.45″N 88°45′32.5″W / 32.6512361°N 88.759028°W / 32.6512361; -88.759028
Status Under construction
Construction began June 3, 2010
Construction cost $6.2 billion
Thermal power station
Primary fuel Lignite
Secondary fuel Natural gas
Power generation
Units under const. 582-megawatt
Nameplate capacity 582-megawatt electric
Official website

The Kemper Project, also called the Kemper County energy facility, is an electrical generating station currently under construction in Kemper County, Mississippi. Mississippi Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, began construction of the plant in 2010.[1] Once operational, the Kemper Project will be a first-of-its-kind electricity plant to employ gasification and carbon capture technologies at this scale.[2]

The power plant is scheduled to open in the third quarter of 2016, more than two years behind schedule, at a cost of $6.6 billion—three times original cost estimate.[3][4] According to a Sierra Club analysis, Kemper is the most expensive power plant ever built for the watts of electricity it will generate.[5]


Kemper County is a small county in Mississippi that is roughly 30 minutes north of Meridian.[6] Kemper County was chosen as the site for the plant to take advantage of local lignite, an untapped natural resource, while providing geographic diversity to help balance the electric demand and strengthen electric reliability in Mississippi.[7] Mississippi Power is a large energy company based in Mississippi, providing energy for Gulfport, Biloxi, Hattiesburg, Meridian, Pascagoula, Columbia, Laurel, Waveland, Lucedale and Picayune.[8]

Mississippi Power says that the Kemper Project will allow for the production of cleaner energy through the use of integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) and carbon capture technologies, eliminating the majority of emissions normally emitted by a traditional coal plant. Because the activities involved with an IGCC plant involve minimal water consumption, these processes will not harm the water sources of the area.[9] A study conducted by Southern Company states that the Kemper Project “is a large undertaking with high visibility and will help set the stage for future coal-based power generation.”[10] The facility will be a "zero" liquid discharge facility.[11]

On June 3, 2010, the Mississippi Public Service Commission certified the project and the ground breaking ceremony took place.[10] Governor Haley Barbour was present.[12]


  • 2008: Conceptual design initiated
  • 2010: Mississippi Public Service Commission approves project
  • 2010: Construction begins
  • 2011: Building foundation laydown begins
  • 2012: Aboveground construction started
  • August 2013: Connection of the site's 230 kilovolt transmission lines
  • September 2013: First firing of the plant's combustion turbine (CTs) was achieved[13]
  • October 2013: Combined cycle unit is originally synchronized to the grid[14]
  • December 2013: Final transmission line that will carry electricity was energized[15]
  • July 2014: Pneumatic tests on the gasifiers used to convert lignite to synthetic gas successfully tested[16]
  • July 2014: Combined cycle unit responsible for generating electricity was successfully tested[16]
  • August 2014: The Combined cycle unit is now in commercial operation and is available to serve customers. Mississippi Power identified this milestone as the most significant milestone to date.[17]
  • October 2014: Delays postpone the in-service date to the first half of 2016, and increase cost estimates to $6.1 billion.[18]
  • December 2014: 48 "steam blows" were successfully completed. Steam blow is the process of blowing steam through pipes to ensure that they are clean, tight, and leak free.[19]
  • March 2015: First fire of the gasifiers is successfully completed. The gasifiers, which are the centerpiece of the project, are designed to convert lignite coal to synthesis gas, or syngas, for use in power generation.[20]
  • September 2015: Mississippi Power adjusted the scheduled completion of the plant to a date after April 19th, 2016. Because of this delay, the company will be required to pay back the $234 million in investment tax credits to the Internal Revenue Service.[21]
  • March 2016: Southern Company reported to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that the cost of the Kemper Project had increased due to "repairs and modifications". The updated cost of the project would be $6.6 billion.[4]

General information

  • Plant: 582-megawatt electric power plant [22]
  • Technology: Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) design called TRIG technology
  • Location: Kemper County, Mississippi, approximately 20 miles north of Meridian, Mississippi.
  • Fuel: Mississippi lignite, about 4.7 million tons used per year; four billion mineable tons available in Mississippi alone
  • CO2 Capture: at least 65 percent
  • In-service: First half of 2016 (estimated)[18]
  • Initial certificate approved by the Mississippi Public Service Commission: June 3, 2010
  • Owner and operator: Mississippi Power; South Mississippi Electric Power Association agreed to purchase 15 percent of the facility, but pulled out of that deal on May 20, 2015[23]
  • Suppliers: More than 500 Mississippi companies
  • Cooling water: City of Meridian treated effluent
  • Construction jobs: Nearly 12,000 direct and indirect; 6,000 workers on-site
  • Permanent jobs: Over 1,000 direct and indirect[24]
  • Academic scholarships: 20 awarded to students attending two- and four-year programs
  • Tax revenue: Nearly $75 million in state and local taxes generated during construction; $30 million generated annually over lifetime of plant.
  • Lignite dome: Holds up to 100,000 tons


  • Concrete: about 109,000 cubic yards
  • Structural steel: about 40,000 tons
  • Above-ground piping: about 908,000 linear feet
  • Gasifier weight: 550 tons
  • New transmission lines: 60 miles
  • CO2 Pipeline: 62 miles
  • Reservoir: 500,000,000 gallons
  • Natural gas pipeline: 6 miles


Lignite is a soft, brownish-black coal that forms the lowest level of the coal family. It makes up the largest portion of the world’s coal reserves.[25]

Lignite Coal

According to the Lignite Energy Council about 79 percent of lignite coal is used to generate electricity, 13.5 percent is used to generate synthetic natural gas, and 7.5 percent is used to produce fertilizer products Mississippi has an estimated five billion tons of coal reserves,consisting almost entirely of lignite. The typical lignite beds that can be economically mined range from two to nine feet thick. Mississippi’s lignite resources equal about 13 percent of the total U.S. lignite reserves.[26]

The Kemper plant will use about 375,000 tons of the locally mined lignite per month or almost 185 million tons over the plant’s expected 40-year life.[27] TRIG technology can utilize lignite, which is also a driving factor of the technology.[28]


Mississippi Power's Kemper plant is an integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) facility. It’s a combined-cycle power plant and a coal-gasification plant designed specifically to work with each other to ensure a cleaner coal plant. Coal gasification will occur utilizing a technology known as "transport integrated gasification" (TRIG) to convert lignite coal—mined on the Kemper site—into natural gas.[29] The natural gas will then be used to power turbines to generate electricity, which will be distributed to customers.[30]

Mississippi Power has stated that, by adding coal to its sources of power, it will add balance to its fuel-source choices, and will be less reliant on any one form of energy.[31] There is an estimated four billion tons of lignite available to be used.[32]

If successful, the Kemper Project will be the second TRIG facility in the United States.[32] Producing electricity from coal in this way produces tremendous amounts of carbon dioxide, and Mississippi Power has stated that 65 percent of the carbon dioxide would be captured and utilized in Enhanced Oil Recovery at neighboring oil fields.[32]

Transport integrated gasification technology

TRIG was developed by the Department of Energy, Southern Company and KBR at the Power Systems Development Facility in Wilsonville, Alabama.[22]

Southern Company states that TRIG is a superior coal-gasification method with low impacts to the environment. TRIG technology can utilize lignite, which accounts for more than half of the world's vast coal reserves and has driven global interest in the plant.[33]

The company also states that with TRIG technology, the Kemper facility will turn Mississippi lignite into a clean gas while reducing emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide and mercury. The reduction of carbon dioxide emissions with this technology will make CO2 emissions equivalent to a similarly sized natural gas combined cycle power plant.[34]

Power Magazine posted an article in April 2013, walking through the technology in technical detail. They say, "Commercial TRIG units can be designed to achieve high environmental standards for SO2, NOx, dust emissions, mercury, and CO2. Cost analysis based on extensive design has shown that the economic benefits offered by the air-blown transport gasifier relative to other systems are preserved even when CO2 capture and sequestration are incorporated into the design."[35] Because of these design efforts, nearly 65% of the plant's carbon dioxide emissions are captured.[22]

Clean coal

If the carbon, capture and sequestration technology used at the Kemper Project is successful, it will be the United States’ first clean coal plant.[2] The need for this type of technology has come from decades of debate amongst energy leaders on how to minimize carbon dioxide emissions into the earth’s atmosphere.[36] In 2013, the United States' coal use was expected to be at 40%, dominating all other energy sources.[37] Realizing the demand for coal was not decreasing, Mississippi Power, Southern Company, KBR, and the Department of Energy invested in technology to capture emissions as a result of burning fossil fuels.[38] The investing bodies have argued the type of clean coal technology they claim are found at the Kemper Project will be adopted worldwide; bringing profits back to Mississippi customers.[39]

Environmentalists claim that clean coal is not a possibility, as some emissions will still be emitted into the atmosphere.[40]

Carbon capture and sequestration

Carbon capture and sequestration, also referred to as carbon capture and storage (CCS), is a technology that can capture up to 90% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.[41] CCS uses a combination of technologies to capture the CO2 released in the combustion process, transport it to a suitable storage location and finally store it (typically deep underground) where it cannot enter the atmosphere and thus contribute to climate change. CO2 sequestration options include saline formations and oil wells, where captured CO2 can be utilized in enhanced oil recovery (CO2-EOR).[42]

Due to rising global demand for energy, the consumption of fossil fuels is expected to rise through 2035, leading to greater CO2 emissions. CCS is a key abatement option to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere.[43]

CO2 enhanced oil recovery

Carbon dioxide enhanced oil recovery or CO2-EOR is a method that increases the amount of oil that is recovered from an underground oil reservoir. By pumping CO2 into an oil reservoir, previously unrecoverable oil is pushed up to where the oil can be reached. The US Department of Energy cites that this can produce an additional 30 to 60 percent of the original amount of recoverable oil.[44] Once all of the recoverable oil has been reached, the depleted reservoir can act as a storage site for the CO2.[45]

The Kemper Plant will have 60 miles of pipeline to carry its captured CO2 to neighboring oil reserves for enhanced oil recovery (EOR).[46] Each year, the plant will capture 3 million tons of CO2.[46] In March 2014, The Guardian published that the diverted CO2 will be pumped into two Mississippi companies for use in enhanced oil recovery.[47]

Research & development

The Department of Energy, the Southern Company, and construction management firm KBR (Kellogg, Brown & Root) joined together at the Power Systems Development Facility (PSDF) in Wilsonville, Alabama to develop a process known as Transport Integrated Gasification (TRIG). This development started in 1996, and the gasifier design of Southern Company's Kemper Coal Plant is based on this specific research and development. The technology is most cost-effective when using low-heat content, high moisture, or high-ash content coals, including lignite.[48]

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, coal gasification offers one of the most versatile and clean ways to convert coal into electricity, hydrogen, and other valuable energy products. Rather than burning coal directly, gasification (a thermo-chemical process) breaks down coal into its basic chemical constituents.[49]

The technology of processing coal to gas on a commercial scale has been in development since the 1970s, and it has been in use since the mid-1980s.[50]

The TRIG technology, derived from fluidized catalytic cracking units used in the petrochemical industry, uses a pressurized, circulating fluidized bed unit. The transport gasification system features higher efficiencies and is capable of processing low-rank coals, such as lignite.[51] Additionally, commercial TRIG units can be designed to achieve high environmental standards for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, dust emissions, mercury, and carbon dioxide. Cost analysis based on the Kemper Coal Plant's design has shown that the economic benefits offered by the air-blown transport gasifier, relative to other systems, are preserved even when carbon dioxide capture and sequestration methodologies are incorporated into the design.[52]

The largest transport gasifier built to date commenced operation in 1996 at Southern Company's PSDF. The gasifier and auxiliary equipment at the site were sized to provide reliable data for confident scale-up to commercial scale. The demonstration unit proved easy to operate and control, achieving more than 15,600 hours of gasification. The demonstration-scale gasifier successfully gasified high-moisture lignite from the Red Hills Mine in Mississippi in four separate test campaigns for more than 2,300 hours of operations. On lignite, the transport gasifier operated smoothly over a range of conditions, confirming the gasifier design for Kemper County.[52]

Environmental controversies

Environmental groups argue that the project is an expensive undertaking that offers only limited benefits. Groups such as the Sierra Club and Bridge the Gulf are encouraging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deny the required wetland permits, which Mississippi Company would have to fill to build the plant’s facilities.[53]

The Mississippi Chapter of the Sierra Club is arguing that the location where the facilities are planned to be built needs to be left alone. They argue that the position of the facilities on a wetland will pollute the environment with tainted water runoff.[54] Also, they believe that the extraction of the lignite will erode the environment and force the relocation of many Mississippians. Mitigation construction activities included the enhancement of 31 acres of wetlands, 105 acres of riparian buffer, and approximately 3,000 linear feet of stream channel.[55] In an agreement with the city of Meridian, the plant is using city wastewater as its only water source.[56] Additionally, the Kemper Project site is a "zero" liquid discharge facility. Therefore, no processed water from the plant is discharged into rivers, creeks or streams.[57]

Recently, this project has been recognized as the only plant with carbon capture technology in the US.[58]

Political controversies

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has praised the planned project's potential of placing Mississippi in national prominence, mostly because it would be the first U.S. commercial-scale power plant to capture carbon.[59] Additionally, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich expressed his support for the Kemper Project, stating that in his opinion it had the potential to be the single most important experiment in developing electricity in the world today. Mr. Gingrich's closing words of encouragement for the Kemper Project and the state of Mississippi: "You have a chance to be a remarkable leader in the country in the next 10 to 20 years."[60]

On November 8, 2013, US Secretary of Energy Dr. Ernest Moniz toured the Kemper facility, along with an international delegation of government and industry leaders representing Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom.[42] After a tour of the facility and opportunity for discussions, Secretary Moniz took to Facebook to summarize his visit: "Projects like Kemper represent the future of fossil energy and are evidence of the Department of Energy's commitment to #ActonClimate by advancing technologies that make coal more efficient, economical and environmentally sustainable."[61]

The Kemper Project received an estimated $270 million in Department of Energy funds after the Southern Company’s plan for the proposed Orlando Gasification Project bunked when Florida decided the state was not interested in more coal plants.[59] These transferred funds were moved from Florida to Mississippi in December 2008, after Haley Barbour's Washington D.C. lobbying firm, the BGR Group, pushed for the reallocation.[59] Southern Company has been a BGR client since 1999, having spent a total of $2.6 million with the firm, according to federal lobbying disclosure documents.[59] However, Southern Company alleges that Governor Barbour did not help them receive any additional funding at all.[59]

The BGR Group website has deleted all connections with Southern Company from its website.[62]


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