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Brooke County commissioners concerned about power plant loan guarantee provision

INTERIM SHERIFF — Newly appointed interim Brooke County sheriff, Scott Adams, center, discussed a matter with deputies Douglas Mills, left; and Eric Zeigler. Adams, who served as chief sheriff’s deputy under Larry Palmer, will serve the remaining four months of Palmer’s term following his resignation last week. (Photo by Warren Scott)

WELLSBURG — While the West Virginia Economic Development Authority is expected today to consider a loan guarantee for the proposed Brooke County Power Plant, Brooke County Commissioners said Tuesday they are concerned about a provision that may be included with it.

The commissioners said they have learned that Gov. Jim Justice’s office has asked for the Energy Solutions Consortium, the company building the plant, to formally agree to use some percentage of natural gas from West Virginia for the gas-fired plant.

A website for the project states it will draw gas from existing pipelines. Equitrans, a Canonsburg, Pa.-based company, has announced plans to build a 16.7-mile pipeline from the Rover pipeline in western Pennsylvania to serve the plant.

Once completed, the facility is expected to expected to consume $177.5 million in natural gas per year.

Commissioner A.J. Thomas said he’s concerned the provision will deter its developers and others who may consider building in the state.

He said the state Development Authority has written to ESC indicating its intention of supporting a $5.6 million loan guarantee for the project, a move he sees as an effort to calm prospective investors in the plant.

The state board had been slated in August to consider the guarantee, which would involve the state in repaying the loan should the plant’s developers be unable to. But the board dropped it from its agenda after Gov. Jim Justice raised questions about the project.

Justice said he wanted to be sure the plant would benefit the state and asked how many West Virginians would be hired to build it and the number who would be employed there.

Some have argued Justice was swayed by interests who see the plant as a threat to the coal industry.

ESC has estimated 1,000 workers will be needed to built the plant, which is expected to employ 20 and 30 full-time staff.

The West Virginia Building and Construction Trades Council and others noted the company’s application with the state Public Service Commission states 75 percent of the plant’s builders are expected to be local.

The commissioners also have noted tax revenue to be generated by the plant.

A 30-year agreement with ESC calls for it to make in lieu of tax payments of $433,000 per year to the county and $167,000 per year to the school district.

In other business, the commissioners appointed Scott Adams to serve the remaining four months of Larry Palmer’s term as sheriff following Palmer’s resignation, to pursue other opportunities, last week.

Before serving as chief sheriff’s deputy under Palmer in recent years, Adams served for many years in the West Virginia State Police, where he served as an investigator in its crimes against children unit.

County Commissioner Stacey Wise said he was a natural choice to fill the position until the winner of the sheriff’s race in the general election steps into the role in January.

“We have full faith in him. And he was able to step into the job from Day 1,” she said.

Voters on Nov. 3 will be asked to choose from Democratic challenger Kevin Heck, who defeated Palmer in May; and Republican challenger Rich Beatty.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)

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