The Cost of Clean Coal

A Mississippi power plant promises to create clean energy from our dirtiest fuel. But it will come at a price.

On December 14, 2006, Barbara Correro was at home drinking tea, reading the paper. She had spent the past five years and most of her savings on a long-cherished retirement dream: a small mobile home on 24 acres of pine and hardwood forest, a large organic garden, and a pack of friendly dogs in rural Kemper County, Miss.

The acres once belonged to her grandmother, who kept cows and chickens, sold the hand-churned butter and eggs, and grew a bale of cotton every year to pay the taxes on the land. “It was hard work, and she was a good woman,” says Correro, a former oncology nurse with bright, quizzical blue eyes, a shock of white hair, and an unflinching voice.

By 2006, she’d built 27 raised beds, and was thinking about apple trees. And then, there it was, on the front page of the Kemper County Messenger: “Gasification plant would be ‘world’s largest’: Coal mine could be in future.”

Mississippi Power, the largest utility in the state and a subsidiary of Southern Company, one of the largest electricity producers in the country, had announced its intentions to build a $1.8 billion power plant fueled by Mississippi lignite coal, dug out of the ground right next to Correro’s homestead. By converting coal into synthetic gas, the plant would be much safer and cleaner than traditional coal-burning power plants. It would also (although this came out later) be designed to capture 65 percent of its carbon emissions.

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