Clean Coal for Mississippi? Think Again.

By Will Watson, Ph.D.

Mississippians concerned about the environment and public health should be wary of The Southern Company’s plans to build a supposed “clean coal” power plant in Kemper County.

 The Integrated Gassification Combined Cycle (IGCC) process being touted as “clean coal” technology for Kemper County has never produced “clean” power on a commercially viable scale. An IGCC demonstration plant in Indiana created toxic wastewater that, chemically, resembled ammonia more than water.

A Minnesota EPA study of a proposed IGCC design there found mercury emissions would be 22 percent higher than from comparable coal plants. And, although IGCC creates about as much greenhouse gas as conventional coal plants, there are currently no commercial scale CO2 containment methods in use anywhere. None. Captured concentrated CO2 will be only slightly less dangerous than mercury.

Accidental emissions of it, such as are always possible with a large scale industrial process, can kill by suffocation. Do you really want to have this stuff pumped into old oil fields in rural Mississippi, as is proposed?

IGCC -produced power is also more expensive than conventional plants. Electrical Power Research Institute studies show that capital costs for IGCC plants run 20-40 percent higher than conventional coal, and that carbon capture will increase the total cost of electricity by 38%.

The DOE found IGCC unattractive to private investors, necessitating large federal subsidies for construction and operations. These sorts of drawbacks, fiscal and environmental, lead MIT to conclude, in The Future of Coal (2007), that “the US should not increase investment in IGCC”. That seems pretty definitive.

Citizens, the future of energy is not in coal. It’s in conservation, in concentrated solar power and offshore wind turbines, and in small-scale, home power production. This last would be feasible given the passage of a state net-metering law that would allow homeowners to sell their surplus back to the power company at appropriate rates.

Anyone interested in lobbying the legislature to pass net metering laws and other home power production incentives should contact me at the e-mail below. Mississippi is one of only 8 states that lack a net-metering law. We can do better. We must.

 Will Watson, Ph.D.
Green Party of Mississippi


One Response to “Clean Coal for Mississippi? Think Again.”

  1. Carol Overland Says:

    Very well put! Thanks for bringing out the cost info, that the industry and feds recognize it’s “too risky” and overpriced. And then there’s the environmental performance touted as SUPERIOR but that isn’t anything to write home about. For specifics, go to and search for “Excelsior” or “Mesaba” and for the emissions info, search for “MPCA Final” and you’ll find our state agency analysis. Minnesota PUC rejected the proposed PPA as too costly, the ALJs on the case said it was too costly, not a significant environmental improvement over regular coal, and that it was not in the public interest. Delaware did similarly, rejecting IGCC and instead going for offshore wind with gas backup. It’s insulting that after rejection in many venues across the US, they try to stick it to Mississippi! Just say NO!

    Carol A. Overland
    Attorney for, Intervenor against Excelsior Energy’s Mesaba Project

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