Successful testing in March of burners to heat gasifiers at Mississippi Power's $6 billion Kemper County energy facility is one of the plant's most significant milestones to date.

The gasifiers - the centerpiece of the project - are designed to convert abundant lignite coal to synthesis gas, or syngas, that will propel huge turbines that generate electricity.

"It's like sticking a lighter out a moving car's window, lighting it, and then keeping it lit," said Joe Miller, Kemper startup manager, in describing the complexity of igniting the project's startup pilot burners. "It is exciting to see more than 20 years of engineering and testing now taking shape at this first-of-its-kind facility."

The Kemper plant has come under fire from environmental critics and the new technology has raised doubts.

Some called nuclear power a folly in the 1950s when it burst onto the scene, but some of the lowest cost source of baseload electrical generation today is nuclear.

Kemper isn't a Lego set they've erected in the middle of nowhere, although the miles of piping, huge tanks, valves, stacks, turbines and bright colors are fascinating.

Listening to the engineers first-hand, we are convinced because they are.

Future jobs will depend on abundant and less expensive power. Long-term, rates will be lower because the price of lignite coal won't fluctuate and the supply is practically endless.

As with any new technology, expect a few bumps as engineers work out the kinks, but so far, so good and lots of others are interested in the technology.

In March, officials from Saskatchewan's SaskPower, which operates a similar facility in Canada, visited the Kemper site along with some of their local government leaders.

"We don't want to lose coal, so we're quite interested in seeing different ways of dealing with it, so the carbon can be captured and we can continue operating our coal fleet," SaskPower Vice-President Carbon Capture & Storage Initiatives Ian Yeates told WTOK's Tom Williams.

One of the Canadian legislators spoke of the people of Kemper County, saying, "The people are very hospitable down here, and everyone says, 'Thank you' and 'Hello.' They open doors for you and stuff like that. It's great to be down here."

Our future will be brighter if we continue that hospitality, keep working hard to improve education and keep investing in the resources necessary to attract new industry. Observers can see that Kemper County has a vision and that will pay dividends in the long-run once the plant is running.

The carbon capture technology is what has interested power executives around the world most, from China to other parts of the U.S.

The technology is designed to capture 65 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, which could be repurposed for use in enhanced oil recovery.

Long-term, rates will be lower, power more abundant and cleaner because of the new technology.

Mississippi Power customers are expected to pay far less than the 54 percent rate hike for Entergy's Grand Gulf in the 1980s or Mississippi Power's 34 percent for coal-fired Plant Daniel in the 1970s.

Mississippi ratepayers historically have borne the cost of constructing baseload electric power generating plants. Kemper County is no different. Mississippi Power stockholders are absorbing the $4 billion in cost overruns.

About 2,500 workers continue to work on the plant. At its peak of construction, the plant employed about 5,000. The entire project is slated to begin operation in 2016.

The plant has been an economic development boon for Kemper County and East Mississippi. Above the jobs and economic activity, we are grateful for the civic contribution Mississippi Power is making to our schools and other organizations.

Another major milestone is expected to be achieved later this year when lignite is added to the gasifier to produce syngas.

Kemper is leading the way in future power generation through advanced technology that eventually will be marketed and sold worldwide for a cleaner environment.