Last week, I was able to take advantage of an extremely unique opportunity: to go visit the most talked about coal plant in the country, the Kemper County Energy Facility. If that wasn’t enough, I got to escort Dale Earnhardt, Jr., the two-time Daytona 500 Champion, on the visit.
When we arrived at Kemper, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I had only seen one coal plant before in West Virginia, and even from far away it seemed absolutely massive. I couldn’t even imagine what the most up-to-date facility could be like. After getting a safety briefing, we put on our hard hats and neon vests and went to see the plant.
When we were walking around, I wondered about the light colored rock beneath my feet and I soon discovered that it was lignite coal. Mississippi alone has more than 4 billion tons of lignite, and lignite accounts for over half of the world’s coal reserves. Kemper’s 6,000 employees help convert the lignite to gas through a gasification process called TRIG technology. TRIG essentially forms a chemical reaction where the lignite turns into a synthesis gas, while reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury (carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by at least 65% when using TRIG technology.) While Kemper is criticized for its cost overruns, it’s not uncommon when dealing with a never-been-done project of this magnitude. Over time, facilities like Kemper (after deemed commercially viable) will be cost-efficient and produce more electricity at a lower capital cost compared to other gasification technologies. Another benefit? The captured carbon from Kemper will be transported to a facility more than 60 miles away to be used for enhanced oil recovery.
Among carbon capture and storage (CCS), Kemper has other environmentally-friendly components. For instance, the plant is a zero liquid discharge facility which basically means that any water they use to generate electricity, doesn’t go back into nature. They even have an agreement with a neighboring city (Meridian, Mississippi) for the majority of its overflow to be funneled to the 90 acre reservoir on-site.
It was amazing to see how excited the plant workers were when they found out that Dale Jr. was on site. It was such a great surprise for all of them, and so wonderful to hear the responses they had to show their appreciation for him supporting coal-based electricity. Dale Jr. loved seeing his fans, and his fans loved seeing him. I was speaking with his girlfriend, Amy, and she was telling me about their visit to CONSOL’s Enlow Fork plant last year and how interesting it was to learn about not only the plant and the mines, but the people that dedicate their lives to ensuring we have the power we need. She was equally as excited to see Kemper and learn about the technology behind it.
On my visit, I met several people who had been on-site since day one of construction and are still there several years later, its operations are the focus of American energy’s future. There are 6,000 hard-working Americans at Kemper that take a lot of pride in their work and how far they have come. I can’t wait to see this amazing plant come on line in the fall and to continuing to learn more about the coal-based industry – and to my next plant tour with Dale Jr.!