Plant Officials Tout Benefits of the Kemper County Energy Facility.


Officials from North American Coal Corporation and Mississippi Power tout the Kemper County Energy Facility, which is expected to be fully operational in early 2016. And there’s good reason, too. During its primary construction phase, more than 6,000 workers were on site. Today, 2,500 workers remain, with some of those considered full-time.  Local officials have pointed to Kemper as a reason for economic improvement in the area, both today and in the future.

In addition to the plant, the North American Coal Corporation is spearheading a lignite coal mining operation.

According to North American Coal Engineering and Operations Manager Matthew S. Jones, they have been “fully operational” since July 2013, and have 117 full-time employees. Jones stated that “in 16 months, the coal mining operation has produced more than 1.2 million tons of lignite coal.” The lignite coal will soon produce electricity for an estimated 186,000 residents in a 22-county area.

Let’s talk technology. The Kemper County Energy Facility is a first of its kind, in that it will utilize TRIG technology, which converts lignite to gas that can be used to generate electricity, while utilizing a new carbon catching procedure that will reduce CO2 emissions by 60%. Basically, Mississippi Power, Southern Company, and its partners, have figured out a way to make coal electricity production, clean.

Mississippi Power spokesman Lee Youngblood said the reason why the company did not build a natural gas plant is that they did not want to be fully dependent on the natural gas industry.

“We felt it was best that we look at all avenues of generating power,” Youngblood said. “Natural gas now is low, but what if it suddenly rises?”

During a recent tour of the Kemper County Energy Facility, Youngblood said the plant reached a significant milestone in early March.

“We conducted the first fire of the gasifier startup burners,” Youngblood said. “Fire on one train took place Sunday night, March 1, around 7 p.m. and the first fire of the other train (two gasifiers, two trains) took place around noon the following day.”

Youngblood said the Kemper County Energy Facility has produced power for some customers since August, 2014 through natural gas.

“It’s dispatching power to Mississippi Power customers,” Youngblood said. “This is a 582 mega watt plant that right now is running on natural gas. Eventually, it will be a hybrid when we start using the lignite, which is a plentiful resource right here, and this coal will produce syngas that will run the turbines.”

Youngblood said Kemper is the first power plant to be built in the East Mississippi region since Plant Sweat in 1951.

Kemper’s next milestone could happen this quarter when the sand/feed fluidization test takes place.

“We will get to see how these solids behave like liquids under heat pressure and the conditions inside the gasifiers under normal operating conditions,” Youngblood said. “Again, this has to take place for both trains. Under current schedule and pace, I would expect the next major milestone to be refactory drying for each train, followed by the first lignite feed in August. At this point, this is where we will produce the first syngas derived from local lignite.”

After this, testing will take place to judge the consistency of quality needed before introduction into the combustible turbines.

“I would expect the first reliable syngas in the final quarter of this year,” Youngblood said. “Then it is a matter of evaluation and process to certify the overall operational readiness before being officially declared as being in commercial operation as designed.”

That could happen by the first half of 2016, company officials have said.

Another component of the Kemper plant consists of holding tanks to store ammonia, sulphur, carbon and ash. The company has already built a mammoth pit to store the ash. The other three components will be sold.

“The sellable products are ammonia, sulfuric acid and CO2,” he said. “Contracts are in place for those sales. The company has contacts in place for the sale of these products to Martin Products, Denbury Resources, Treetop Midstream Services. The CO2 will enhance oil recovery and is expected to bump U.S. oil output by 2 million barrels a year.”

The proceeds from these sales will go back to Mississippi Power as a way to offset the recoverable plant costs to the customers, Youngblood said. The sellable products could have a value of about $50 million annually, a benefit that will be passed directly back to the customers.

Youngblood said 524 Mississippi companies were, and some still are, involved in the plant’s construction, with roughly $1.4 billion in contracts issued. He said the plant has also produced $30 million in state and local taxes annually.

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