A Free-Market Energy Blog

Kemper Coal Gasification & Storage Plant Imploded (Obama’s climate ‘centerpiece’ bites the dust)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- October 13, 2021

“Goodbye and good riddance to the most expensive, and the most useless clean coal facility ever built.” (Angus Harvey, below)

The quick fix of coal gasification and CO2 storage is all but dead. Projects will continue, and the subsidies will flow if Biden gets his way. But it is greenwashing and greenwasting.

The shiny star to be, Plant Ratcliffe, better known as the Kemper Project, a $6.7 billion integrated gasification power plant, was an experimental boondoggle from the start (mid-2010). The dream really ended years ago, with The Guardian reporting in March 2018:

“This was the flagship project that was going to lead the way for a whole new generation of coal power plants,” said Richard Heinberg, senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute. “If the initial project doesn’t work then who’s going to invest in any more like it?”

Company officials have blamed the failure on factors ranging from competition from tumbling natural gas prices to bad weather, bad timing and plain old bad luck.

BOOM! Mississippi Power’s Kemper Project (Southern Company) was blown up by a “controlled implosion.” Amid the ruins is the technology of converting the state’s abundant lignite into synthetic gas (syngas) to feed a 582-megawatt power plant. Politics defined the project, with Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour presiding.

“If it had become operational with coal,” Wiki noted, “the Kemper Project would have been a first-of-its-kind electricity plant to employ gasification and carbon capture technologies at this scale.”

The Left Reacts

Political economist Angus Harvey described the futile dream that only the US Department of Energy et al. could have dreamed up:

This is the glorious footage of the Kemper coal plant in Mississippi – one of the fossil fuel industry’s biggest ever scams – being destroyed yesterday (to some lovely backing music).

A decade ago, this supposed technological wonder was being advertised as the coal industry’s moonshot, a $7.5 billion project to produce energy from ‘clean coal.’ It never worked, but did manage to burn a huge amount of carbon and taxpayer money in the process. The ratepayers of one of the poorest states in America coughed up $2.8 billion for this fuckup, and then a further $1 billion in 2012 after the state’s governor used his power to force Mississippi Power to pay for it in bonds owned by customers.

Just to put this into context: the budget for the main agency in the United States that handles substance abuse and mental health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is around $4.1 billion. Instead of spending this money on a coal plant that never worked, that agency’s funding could have been doubled for a year. Choices huh?

Last summer the plant’s owner announced it was abandoning construction after years of blown-out budgets and missed construction deadlines.

Goodbye and good riddance to the most expensive, and the most useless clean coal facility ever built.

Susan Krumdieck, a self-described “author and thought leader in Energy Transition Engineering,” added:

What a mess. But at least we can use the evidence, and never consider doing this “clean coal” nonsense again.

Today some economists won the Nobel Prize for using “natural experiments” – which apparently means looking at what happens in the real world and using real data. Brilliant.

This is a natural experiment in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. When pressures are building, the ability to undertake nonsense as a “solution” to the problem can take on gargantuan scale.

To which the critic can say: This is what you get when you try to invert reality with dilute, intermittent energies substituting for dense, reliable ones–for wind/solar substituting for natural gas/coal.

To end politics, Ms. Krumdieck, reconsider the futile, wasteful crusade against carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. End the war against affordable, reliable, utilitarian mineral energies.


  1. John W. Garrett  

    Yet today we have the innumerate, scientific and economic illiterates of NPR and WBUR proclaiming “The offshore wind industry could bring well-paying jobs to communities that need them”



  2. Kermit  

    Barbour got snookered by more than one “Green” Project. KiOR’s direct subsidies were an epic failure. The good side for me is that I was able to lightly used equipment for 5 cents on the dollar and sell it for 25 cents on the dollar. The last items from a downstream unit for deoxygenation of the synthetic diesel which had been purchased by REG, relocated at great cost, as modules, with final pieces laying in a storage yard. The reactors ($481k each) were scrapped two weeks ago. They were just to small a diameter for anyone to repurpose, with closest candidates being motor oil recycling back to base oil, and hydrocracking vegetable oil or animal fat into green diesel.


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