Southern Company’s Kemper “clean coal” plant under construction in Mississippi. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

Southern Co. hits off switch on ‘clean coal’ experiment

Southern Company is suspending efforts to get a troubled Mississippi plant running properly that had been touted as the future for “clean coal” power plants.

The Atlanta utility company said Wednesday it is “immediately suspending start-up and operations activities” for the coal gasification unit at its Mississippi Power subsidiary’s Kemper plant.

The power plant, which also burns natural gas, will continue operating using that fuel.

The decision marks a huge reversal for the first-of-its kind plant, which aimed to burn cheap lignite coal more cleanly than conventional plants. But the $7.5 billion plant was billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule, and still not working properly.

Southern’s action follows a decision last week by the Mississippi Public Service Commission to order the company to pull the plug on the project and absorb billions in costs.

In a statement, Southern said it made the decision to “preserve the safety and health of the workforce and safety of the facility.” The company said it plans to retain “the necessary work force” to keep running the conventional gas-fired part of the plant.

“We are committed to ensuring the ongoing focus and safety of employees while we consider the future of the project, including any possible actions that may be taken by the Commission,” Southern CEO Thomas A. Fanning said in a press release. “We believe this decision is in the best interests of our employees, customers, investors and all other stakeholders.”

Georgia Power, Southern’s largest subsidiary, faces similarly big headaches with its project to build two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle near Augusta.

The Vogtle expansion is over three years behind schedule and more than $3 billion over budget. More costs and delays are expected after the project’s key contractor, Westinghouse Electric, filed bankruptcy in late March.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. Atlanta. News. Now.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. Atlanta. News. Now.