Judge rules Miss. coal plant project can continue

AP News
Posted: Mar 01, 2011 11:39 AM
Judge rules Miss. coal plant project can continue

A judge has upheld a decision by state regulators that allows a power company to build a coal plant in east Mississippi that is opposed by environmental groups.

Harrison County Chancery Judge Jim Persons dismissed arguments from the Sierra Club in a 21-page ruling Monday. The Sierra Club's legal challenge argued that the Mississippi Public Service Commission approved the plan without sufficient proof the plant is needed and that customers will be charged reasonable rates for the power it produces. Persons had heard arguments in the case in February.

Sierra Club lawyer Robert Wiygul said the group will appeal.

"Obviously we're disappointed with the judge's ruling and very respectfully disagree," Wiygul said Tuesday. "We think it's an issue that needs to be before the (Mississippi) Supreme Court."

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups claim the project is dirty, expensive and unnecessary. The Sierra Club also opposes plans to pass over $2 billion in construction costs on to ratepayers.

The three-member Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities in Mississippi, approved the project 2-1 last year.

"It's a very risky project for the ratepayer," Wiygul said. "... The commission's decision did not support putting those kinds of risks on the ratepayer."

Person's ruling said while the Public Service Commission's order "lacked specific findings on the balancing of risks," he wouldn't reverse its decision.

"Given the vast amount of documentary evidence and the lengthy testimony contained in the transcripts of the hearings, there is sufficient evidence in the record to support the decision reached by the commission," the ruling said.

Mississippi Power Co. is building the 582-megawatt plant near the Liberty community in Kemper County. It will use a process that converts coal into a synthesis gas that can generate electricity with fewer emissions than existing pulverized coal power plants.

Verdell Hawkins, a Mississippi Power Co. spokesman, said in a statement Tuesday that the judge's ruling validates the Public Service Commission's decision that the plant "is the best alternative for meeting the projected energy needs of our state and the customers of Mississippi Power."

"We look forward to the progression of this project," he said.

Mississippi Power, a subsidiary of Southern Co., serves more than 193,000 customers in 23 Southeast Mississippi counties.