How America’s clean coal dream unravelled

The dome for storing lignite coal stands next to Southern Co’s Kemper County power plant under construction near Meridian, Mississippi on 25 February 2014.

The dome for storing lignite coal stands next to Southern Co’s Kemper County power plant under construction near Meridian, Mississippi, on 25 February 2014.
Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Image

Exclusive: Kemper power plant promised to be a world leader in ‘clean coal’ technology but Guardian reporting found evidence top executives knew of construction problems and design flaws years before the scheme collapsed

High above the red dirt and evergreen trees of Kemper County, Mississippi, gleams a 15-story monolith of pipes surrounded by a town-sized array of steel towers and white buildings. The hi-tech industrial site juts out of the surrounding forest, its sharp silhouette out of place amid the gray crumbling roads, catfish stands and trailer homes of nearby De Kalb, population: 1,164.

The $7.5bn Kemper power plant once drew officials from as far as Saudi Arabia, Japan and Norway to marvel at a 21st-century power project so technologically complex its builder compared it to the moonshot of the 1960s. It’s promise? Energy from “clean coal”.

“I’m impressed,” said Jukka Uosukainen, the United Nations director for the Climate Technology Centre and Network, after a 2014 tour, citing Kemper as an example of how “maybe using coal in the future is possible”.

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