Mississippians likely face higher power bills thanks to the proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule that governs so-called greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
Most of the state’s officials have attacked the so-called Clean Power Plan as a serious expansion of federal power over electrical generation capacity that could result in the loss of jobs. That includes Gov. Phil Bryant and the Legislature, who say the plan will raise power rates and disproportionately affect those with lower incomes.
The state will have to cut its emissions by 18 percent by 2030, a smaller number than the initially proposed rule, which would’ve demanded a cut of nearly 37 percent.
The final rule should be released in September, and the state will have to start work on a plan to meet the emissions goals or have a federal compliance plan imposed on it.
Last week, attorneys general from from 15 states filed for injunctive relief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Missing from that list was Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood. Hood spokesperson Rachael Ring said, “We are in the process of reviewing the final Clean Power Plan and evaluating Mississippi’s options.”
Former assistant U.S. attorney Mike Hurst, the Republican AG nominee who will face Hood in the general election in November, has pledged he would join the fight over the Clean Power Plan if elected.
The effects for Mississippi could be disastrous. In comments to the EPA, the Mississippi Public Service Commission predicted residential electricity bills could increase 35 percent and industrial electricity rates could skyrocket by 69 percent. The PSC also said the state’s geography and climate would preclude it from shifting onto less-reliable renewable sources such as wind and solar.
Under the so-called Clean Power Plan, Mississippi will have to cut its greenhouse gas emissions from its 2012 level — 1,185 pounds per megawatt hour — to 985 pounds per megawatt hour by 2030.
Utilities will be forced to improve the heat rates of existing coal-fired power plants by 6 percent to allow them to burn cleaner, then increase the amount of power provided from natural gas plants through efficiency upgrades and lastly, substitute renewable sources such as wind and solar in place of electricity from coal-fired plants. The PSC said in its comments that would put all of the state’s older coal plants out of business, which would take 16 percent of the state’s generation infrastructure out of service.
Mississippi’s electrical generating landscape is dominated by two investor-owned utilities, Mississippi Power and Entergy, and the South Mississippi Electric Power Association, a nonprofit cooperative. The Tennessee Valley Authority also supplies power to 14 municipal and 14 power cooperatives in the state.
The regulatory ax would fall primarily with Mississippi Power, SMEPA and the TVA. All three utilities own or receive power from coal-fired plants in the state that would be on the chopping block under the new rule.
Mississippi Power has already taken steps to get ahead of the regulations by converting all of the generating units at Plant Watson near Gulfport to natural gas to comply with its settlement with the Sierra Club. The Southern Company subsidary also installed a $660 million scrubber system at Plant Daniel in Jackson County, which also has natural gas-fired generation units, to comply with EPA regulations on sulfur dioxide and mercury pollution.
The company’s $6.229 billion integrated gasification power plant in Kemper County could help if it works as designed, but the plant is two years behind schedule and the plant’s carbon capture system is dependent on oil recovery companies purchasing its carbon dioxide in an era of falling crude oil prices. The gasifier that turns lignite coal into a natural gas-like substance called synthesis gas for burning in the facility’s power-generating turbines isn’t scheduled to go into operation until the first half of 2016. The plant has been running on natural gas since last August.
SMEPA, which backed out of a plan to purchase 15 percent of the Kemper Project, has one 400 megawatt coal-fired plant, but has scaled back the role of coal in its generation portfolio. In 2013, coal accounted for 37.7 percent of SMEPA’s generation capability, shrinking to 34.8 percent in 2014.
TVA buys power from the 440 megawatt Red Hills coal-fired plant near Ackerman.
Entergy produces power in Mississippi without any coal-fired plants, relying on several natural gas plants and the Grand Gulf nuclear plant near Port Gibson.