Then-Gov. Haley Barbour’s “State of the State” address on January 18, 2010 contained several big hits and at least two strikeouts in what he saw ahead for Mississippi’s economic development.
Let’s look back at how that decade began and what might be ahead for the new one in state government under Tate Reeves, who takes office on Jan. 14.
Barbour’s address to lawmakers included high hopes that the lignite coal plant just beginning construction in Kemper County would be a boon to the state. It became a big bust.
“Mississippi Power’s plant …. will be a national pacesetter. It will take Mississippi lignite, convert it to synthetic gas, burn it to generate electricity and then capture the carbon dioxide and sell it for use in enhanced oil recovery,” Barbour said. “It will be a home run for Mississippi.”
Trouble is, or was, the project began with a projected cost of $2.4 billion, but by 2017 had incurred so many cost overruns that it had a price tag of $7.5 billion. That’s when Mississippi Power’s parent, the Atlanta-based Southern Company, tossed in the proverbial towel, cut its losses and turned the facility into one burning cheaper natural gas to generate electricity.
From the outset, the project drew raves and barbs, mostly barbs. I credit the dismantling of the plant as first proposed to a coterie of critics. One was Northside Sun publisher Wyatt Emmerich, who slammed it from day one over projected costs and its aspirations of producing electricity efficiently.
Another was Jackson businessman Kelley Wil-liams, chairman of the non-profit Bigger Pie Forum, which comments on key issues that affect the state’s economy. Williams’ many columns in Emmerich’s newspapers also railed about costs and whether the additional electricity output was needed. On the Pie’s website today, the proposed plant is referred to as “a cancer in Mississippi’s economy.”
Louie Miller of the Mississippi Sierra Club and Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley were also early and steady thorns in Mississippi Power’s side.
Barbour was also wrong in predicting success for Ren-tech, another coal user (to produce liquid fuel) that had plans for a $3 billion plant in Adams County. Its fuel production would have been used by various airlines. This plant did open its doors later in the 2010s, but soon shut them.
Barbour was correct in predicting success for the Entergy Corp.’s $500 million expansion of its nuclear power plant in Claiborne County – our true “home run.”
The parent of what formerly was Mississippi Power & Light Co., Entergy now churns out electricity that’s considered the “cheapest and cleanest” from the “Grand Gulf” nuclear station.
Barbour also told about the coming of the German-based Schulz Co., which spent $300 million to make steel products in Tunica County, and about Chevron’s upgrade of its refinery in Pascagoula.
Reeves doubtless will hit hard on the state’s prospects for new economic development when he takes to the podium in the House chamber for his first “State of the State.” He will be joined by his new partner, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, plus returning House Speaker Philip Gunn.
They are likely in the 2020s to face as many potential social and healthcare changes as they do economic ones — maybe more, including the consequential matter of whether to expand the Medicaid program.
By design, lawmaking and governing are complicated and weighty subjects. We all must hope the men occupying the state’s three highest elected offices will employ the art of compromise as they do the work entrusted to them by Mississippi’s 3 million people. Barbour and the Legislature fully compromised in rebuilding the state after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It was his and their finest hour.
Mac Gordon is a native of McComb. He is a retired newspaperman. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.