Justice: Brooke Power plant project decision in hands of state development authority
CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice clarified his remarks from last week regarding the Brooke County Power natural gas power plant project but made it clear he still has concerns and questions.
Justice said Monday that he asked the West Virginia Economic Development Authority to take another look at the request by the Energy Solutions Consortium Brooke County Power project for a $5.6 million loan guarantee for the natural gas-power electric plant.
“My position is just this … I’ve directed (Commerce Department Secretary Ed Gaunch) to have the West Virginia Economic Development Authority to review their application again,” Justice said. “I’m going to go with Economic Development Authority’s decision upon their review.”
The merchant power plant wouldn’t serve residential customers. Instead, it would sell power to PJM Interconnection’s 13-state wholesale energy market once completed. Justice said he would abide by whatever decision the Economic Development Authority would make. Once completed, the 830-megawatt plant could provide emergency to as many as 700,000 homes.
According to the website for the project, the construction of the plant would create 1,164 direct and indirect jobs and 30 full-time jobs once completed, and provide a $1.25 billion economic impact during the construction phase and $440 million economic impact annually to Brooke County and the surrounding area. It would provide $1 million in payment in lieu of taxes to Brooke County, with $433,000 in annual payments to the Brooke County Commission and $167,000 to the county Board of Education.
Despite Justice’s commitment to letting the Economic Development Authority decision on the loan guarantee for the project, the Governor still had a number of concerns about the viability of the project. Justice said he is concerned that the project doesn’t have the funding to complete the plant, which would leave the state holding the bag for the $5.6 million loan. He also expressed doubts in the viability of the project.
“From the state guaranteeing something that looks to me like they’ve been trying to raise these dollars for eight or nine years. Very frankly, I have very serious doubts that will ever happen,” Justice said. “Before somebody comes to us and starts asking for money, at least we should be have some level of assurance that the business is viable and the thing is going to truly happen.”
Justice said he wants to the project to guarantee to hire 75 percent of the construction workforce for the project from West Virginia, as well as most of the sub-contractors. According to the company’s 2018 filing with the state Public Service Commission, West Virginia State Building and Construction Trades Council stated that approximately 75 percent of the jobs for the project would come from West Virginia workers.
“Our company has invested millions of dollars into what will be the first combined-cycle natural gas power plant in the Mountain State, all while hiring West Virginia engineering, legal and economic firms to do the work,” said Drew Dorn, CEO of Energy Solutions Consortium. “We look forward to continuing to work with the state on this process.”
Justice also raised concerns about where the natural gas would come from for the power plant. Justice wants the natural gas to come from West Virginia.
“It has been said that the gas for this plant, if it were ever built, would be coming in a pipeline that they would build into Pennsylvania. That won’t work. That has got to come from West Virginia.”
The website for the project states that the plant will connect into existing local natural gas pipeline infrastructure. Equitrans, formerly EQT, is building a 17-mile pipeline from Pennsylvania to feed gas for the plant from the Rover pipeline – 713-mile pipeline which feeds natural gas from West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania to Canada. ESC states that the plant will require $177.5 Million annually of natural gas, causing a need for more natural gas production in the region.
The project has the support of the Brooke County Commission and a bipartisan group of Northern Panhandle lawmakers. It also has the support of trades groups and the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
“With our vast natural resources and dedicated workforce there is no reason we shouldn’t be home to countless projects like ESC Brooke County Power,” said Steve Roberts, president of the state chamber in an op-ed this weekend. “That is why I am urging the West Virginia Economic Development Authority to guarantee this loan and show that West Virginia is ready to meet the opportunities of the 21st century.”
Steven Allen Adams can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org