Brooke plant hearing Thursday

COLLIERS — West Virginia Secretary of Commerce Woody Thrasher recently said the proposed Brooke County Power natural gas-fired electricity plant could be one of the initial projects funded by the $83.7 billion that China Energy plans to spend in the Mountain State.

Efforts to develop the generator in the Colliers area continue as members of the West Virginia Public Service Commission mull arguments from those in support of and opposed to the project. Some residents who live near the plant’s proposed site on Quinn Lane in part of the Cross Creek Wildlife Management Area are concerned about how the plant will affect their environment.

Officials with Brooke County Access I, a subsidiary of ESC Brooke County Power — which plans to build the plant — will hold a public information meeting from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Burgettstown Public Library, 2 Kerr St., Burgettstown.

In a letter, officials with Brooke County Access I informed the Brooke County Commission on Tuesday of the meeting and plans to extend a 16-mile natural gas pipeline, 16 to 20 inches in diameter, from Washington County, Pa., to the power plant’s site.

The company must seek approval for the project from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and has submitted a pre-filing review of the pipeline’s proposed course that can be found at the federal agency’s website at ferc.gov.

Brooke County Access officials said they have made contact with landowners in Washington County and begun surveying to determine the line’s course and mailed notice of the meeting to them.

While that occurs, the state Public Service Commission and state Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Air Quality considers permit applications sought for the plant by ESC Brooke County Power, an affiliate of Energy Solutions Consortium.

Last month, the state PSC held a hearing in Charleston to accept testimony presented by attorneys for the company and legal counsel for the Ohio Valley Jobs Alliance and several residents who oppose it.

Officials with Brooke County Power ESC said the development of the plant and others in Moundsville and Harrison County, W.Va., will provide a clean, low-cost and reliable source of electricity and offset the loss of coal-fired power plants that have closed in the region.

They said Brooke County will benefit from an agreement with the county commission and the county’s school board that calls for the county to receive $27.3 million in lieu of tax payments and related lease payments over 30 years.

An economic consultant hired by the company also testified hundreds employed in the plant’s 30-month construction could generate $10.6 million to $14.4 million in personal income taxes for the county.

Such estimates have been questioned by attorneys with Dinsmore and Shohl, who represent the Colliers residents and the Ohio Valley Jobs Alliance, an independent group that has argued natural gas power plants present a threat to the state’s coal industry. The group is supported by Murray Energy Corp.

In filings with the public service commission, they said an agreement by ESC Brooke County Power with the West Virginia Building and Construction Trades Council to employ local labor “to the extent reasonably possible” is not a guarantee West Virginians will be hired or that they will live in Brooke County during the construction.

They also argue the plant will have a negative impact on residents, including their property values.

The attorneys said even if air pollutants released by the plant fall within state guidelines, the residents chose to live in an area free of industrial pollution.

They added while the sound of the facility’s operation may not violate the county’s noise ordinance, as stated by Brooke County Power ESC, it is noise that doesn’t exist in that rural area.

In filings with the PSC, the attorneys state, “the people who live in that community did not ask for a power plant to be built in their backyards, and they will suffer real harm if ESC’s project is built. In light of the adverse impacts to health and wellness, the community’s enjoyment of a serene, rural area and financial security, it is clear the first two factors — the community’s interest in living apart from the power plant and avoiding its harmful effects — weigh heavily against ESC’s application.”

Officials with ESC Brooke County Power have countered the plant will be set apart from its neighbors by the surrounding terrain of the former strip mined area, a wooded area and trees and shrubs to be planted by the company.

They said most residents will see only part of the plant’s 180-foot smokestacks in months when the trees have shed their leaves.

Earlier this month, Thrasher signed the memorandum of understanding agreement in the presence of President Donald J. Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Thrasher later said some of the first projects that are part of the agreement are the Brooke County plant, along with another natural gas plant in Harrison County, W.Va.

He said the total investment in these plants will be about $1.3 billion.

(Staff writer Casey Junkins contributed to this report.)

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