Failure of America's flagship "clean coal" plant proves it was always a myth

So much for President Trump's much hailed "Energy Week"

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published June 30, 2017 2:46PM (EDT)

 (AP/Ron Sachs/AFP/Stringer)
(AP/Ron Sachs/AFP/Stringer)

The Southern Company has abandoned its plans to have a clean coal plant in Mississippi -- just as the White House kicked off President Donald Trump's "Energy Week."

The Kemper County plant, the first major carbon-capture plant in the nation, had exceeded it projected budget by $4 billion and was three years behind schedule, according to a report by The New York Times. In 2012 the project was estimated to cost $2.4 billion, but that cost rose by $5 billion over five years.

One major problem that the plant couldn't lick was that the equipment intended to convert the coal into clean gas with at least two-third of its carbon dioxide content scrubbed simply didn't work. The plant had operated on coal for more than 200 days, but the problem has not been solved, company officials said this week. The plant was finally forced to put up or shut up by a deadline imposed by the Mississippi Public Service Commission, which gave it until July to figure out what it planned on doing with its future and suggested that it rely on natural gas.

CEO Thomas Fanning explained in a public statement this week that "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."

The fate of coal as a power source has been the subject of increased scrutiny due to Trump's heavy emphasis on coal throughout his presidential campaign. The Kemper plant has received $382 million in federal Energy Department grants, according to the company.

Despite repeatedly professing his love for coal miners, though, Trump once had a very disparaging view of the profession, telling "Playboy" in 1990 that "most people don’t have the imagination — or whatever — to leave their mine" and "if I had been the son of a coal miner, I would have left the damn mines."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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