Southern Co.’s “clean-coal” plant has been hailed as a first-of-its-kind project. President Donald Trump’s climate-change skepticism could make it the last.
The facility in Kemper County, Mississippi, is slated to finally start generating electricity and capturing carbon dioxide from coal by Jan. 31. The plant has been plagued by construction challenges, running more than two years behind schedule with a $7 billion price tag that’s more than double its original $2.88 billion budget.
Southern has had to write down about $2.6 billion before taxes for Kemper, and faces lawsuits it says are baseless. Now the challenge is a new administration that supports coal but promises to roll back environmental and energy regulations.
“There’s nothing wrong with the technology except the price tag,” said Howard Herzog, a senior research engineer who tracks carbon-capture projects at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “What will make carbon capture and storage move forward is when climate rules get tough, and there’s no sense from this incoming administration that they’re going to get tough with climate policy.”
The Kemper project was conceived during a different energy age in the U.S., when natural gas prices were rising and the fuel was thought to be becoming scarce. “Nobody could have predicted when this plant was first ordered” that fracking would lead to plentiful gas supplies and low prices, Southern Chief Executive Officer Tom Fanning said in an interview.
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