August 11, 2017 12:04:16 PM
DEKALB -- The company that supplies lignite coal to Mississippi Power Co.'s Kemper County power plant says it will lay off 75 workers at the mine.
It's the latest fallout from the suspending the part of the plant that was supposed to gasify coal and remove pollutants. Mississippi Power has said it could lay off 250 workers at the plant. The utility's parent, Southern Co. wrote off $2.8 billion worth of gasifier investment when it announced quarterly earnings last week, adding to $3.1 billion it had lost earlier.
"Obviously, any time you have a job loss as significant as that, it certainly has an effect," Craig Hitt, executive director of the Kemper County Economic Development Authority, told The Meridian Star.
NACCO Industries of Cleveland notified investors Monday of the mine downsizing, saying it would lay off workers after the 60-day notice period mandated by federal law.
The mine, operating as Liberty Fuels Co., sits within walking distance of the power plant, and has been delivering lignite for testing purposes since 2016. The location for the complex in Kemper County, outside Mississippi Power's service territory, was chosen so the lignite mine and power plant would adjoin, cutting transportation costs.
The $7.5 billion Kemper plant was designed to gasify soft lignite coal, strip out much of the carbon dioxide and other pollutants, and burn the gas to generate power. But the plant has ended up more than $4.5 billion over budget and three years behind schedule. The Mississippi Public Service Commission in June ordered the utility and regulatory staff to negotiate a settlement aimed at running the plant only on natural gas and shielding customers from paying for the gasifier.
NACCO said Mississippi Power has not yet notified it of plans to close the mine. If that happens, the utility has contracted to pay NACCO to close and reclaim the land currently developed as a mine.
However, NACCO said that mine closure would harm future profits. The company had hoped to boost coal mining profits by 50 percent from 2012 levels but said that goal would be "compromised" if the Kemper mine closed.
The North American Coal unit had revenue of $28 million and profit of $8 million in the three months ending June 30.