Former Kemper Project engineer sues Southern Co. for firing

 

A former Southern Company engineer who worked at the now-sidelined Kemper Project clean coal power plant is suing the company for not reinstating him in compliance with a 2016 order from the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

 

Brett Wingo worked for the Southern Company from 2007 until 2016 and filed the whistleblower lawsuit in federal court in Birmingham, Alabama Tuesday. He is seeking judgement against Southern officials for violations of federal and state law, reinstatement as ordered by OHSA, back pay and damages.

 

The lawsuit alleges that Southern CEO Tom Fanning and other company officials misled investors and the public about the commercial operation date of Kemper in violation of the federal Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank acts and Mississippi state law.

 

Wingo was the project manager of Kemper’s gasification island, which turns lignite coal mined on site into synthesis gas and removes byproducts such as carbon dioxide, sulfuric acid and anhydrous ammonia.

 

He repeatedly warned company officials starting in the summer of 2012 about the unrealistic COD date of May 2014, a view that was confirmed by a 2014 report from the independent monitor hired by the Mississippi Public Utilities Staff, a separate group from the elected Mississippi Public Service Commission.

 

Engineering firm POWER Burns and Roe said in the report it was aware in November 2012 that the plant wouldn’t be ready for its originally scheduled in-service date of May 1, 2014. The date was the deadline for Southern to get the $7.5 billion plant operational to take advantage of federal tax breaks.

 

Wingo tipped off the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in October 2014 that Southern committed fraud by misrepresenting the plant’s construction schedule and construction milestones to regulators and investors. He also told the SEC that company officials would continue their fraud by declaring a major milestone in March 2015, the “first fire” of the pilot burners in one of Kemper’s gasifiers that didn’t accomplish anything.

 

Wingo was placed on administrative leave in August 2014 and was later muzzled by a lawsuit filed by Southern Company against him in Birmingham. The company later fired him in February 2016. He later filed a complaint with OSHA and the agency ruled in his favor, but the Southern Company still has not reinstated him as ordered.

 

As predicted by Wingo, the Southern Company has had numerous delays with Kemper, which is more than $5 billion over its original cost estimate.

 

In June, the Mississippi Public Service Commission ordered Mississippi Power — Southern Company’s Magnolia State subsidiary — and the Public Utilities Staff to commence negotiations on a deal that would protect ratepayers from paying for the now-mothballed gasifiers and run the plant on natural gas.

 

Mississippi Power and the staff have a deadline of August 21 to reach an agreement. The utility announced June 28 that it would shut down work to get Kemper’s gasifiers operational and announced on August 2 that it would not ask the PSC to allow it to charge ratepayers for costs with the gasifiers and associated systems.

A former Southern Company engineer who worked at the now-sidelined Kemper Project clean coal power plant is suing the company for not reinstating him in compliance with a 2016 order from the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

 

Brett Wingo worked for the Southern Company from 2007 until 2016 and filed the whistleblower lawsuit in federal court in Birmingham, Alabama Tuesday. He is seeking judgement against Southern officials for violations of federal and state law, reinstatement as ordered by OHSA, back pay and damages.

 

The lawsuit alleges that Southern CEO Tom Fanning and other company officials misled investors and the public about the commercial operation date of Kemper in violation of the federal Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank acts and Mississippi state law.

 

Wingo was the project manager of Kemper’s gasification island, which turns lignite coal mined on site into synthesis gas and removes byproducts such as carbon dioxide, sulfuric acid and anhydrous ammonia.

 

He repeatedly warned company officials starting in the summer of 2012 about the unrealistic COD date of May 2014, a view that was confirmed by a 2014 report from the independent monitor hired by the Mississippi Public Utilities Staff, a separate group from the elected Mississippi Public Service Commission.

 

Engineering firm POWER Burns and Roe said in the report it was aware in November 2012 that the plant wouldn’t be ready for its originally scheduled in-service date of May 1, 2014. The date was the deadline for Southern to get the $7.5 billion plant operational to take advantage of federal tax breaks.

 

Wingo tipped off the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in October 2014 that Southern committed fraud by misrepresenting the plant’s construction schedule and construction milestones to regulators and investors. He also told the SEC that company officials would continue their fraud by declaring a major milestone in March 2015, the “first fire” of the pilot burners in one of Kemper’s gasifiers that didn’t accomplish anything.

 

Wingo was placed on administrative leave in August 2014 and was later muzzled by a lawsuit filed by Southern Company against him in Birmingham. The company later fired him in February 2016. He later filed a complaint with OSHA and the agency ruled in his favor, but the Southern Company still has not reinstated him as ordered.

 

As predicted by Wingo, the Southern Company has had numerous delays with Kemper, which is more than $5 billion over its original cost estimate.

 

In June, the Mississippi Public Service Commission ordered Mississippi Power — Southern Company’s Magnolia State subsidiary — and the Public Utilities Staff to commence negotiations on a deal that would protect ratepayers from paying for the now-mothballed gasifiers and run the plant on natural gas.

 

Mississippi Power and the staff have a deadline of August 21 to reach an agreement. The utility announced June 28 that it would shut down work to get Kemper’s gasifiers operational and announced on August 2 that it would not ask the PSC to allow it to charge ratepayers for costs with the gasifiers and associated systems.

 

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