W.Va. regulators approve coal power plant; opponents furious

W.Va. regulators approve coal power plant; opponents furious

The West Virginia Public Service Commission has issued final site approval for a $1 billion coal-fired power plant, ruling the job-creation and financial benefits to Monongalia County outweigh any negative effects.

In a 135-page order issued Monday, the PSC laid out conditions to placate three citizen groups that have fought the project for years, including a noise control plan, proof the developer has the required financing and a $3 million performance bond in case the money runs out before construction is completed.

The PSC also granted a certificate of need for a transmission line but still must consider final approvals for the project. It said construction of the plant itself must begin within three years and be completed within eight, or the developers will have to reapply for permits.

But opponents of the Longview Power Plant said Tuesday those conditions don’t go far enough.

The site approval is “a sellout to out-of-state developers, a tax scam, and a threat to our health and well-being,” Citizens for Alternatives to Longview Power, Citizens for Responsible Development and the Fort Martin Community Association charged in a joint statement.

Longview Power LLC, a subsidiary of Needham, Mass.-based GenPower LLC, plans to build the 600 megawatt plant near Allegheny Energy’s Fort Martin plant. The PSC issued conditional approval for construction in 2004, but court battles have long delayed the project.

“Longview and GenPower have shown they can come in to West Virginia and do whatever they want,” said Jarrett Jamison of Fort Martin. “The PSC has rolled over and allowed Longview and GenPower to take advantage of us.”

The PSC declined to comment Tuesday.

All of Longview’s output is slated for the wholesale electricity market outside West Virginia, while about 25 percent of the Fort Martin plant’s generation currently heads to state consumers.

Longview says the plant will employ 60 people and create up to 1,600 construction jobs, then consume more than 2 million tons of coal a year when completed.

Opponents, however, say it will create noise and air pollution, damage their views and cause harm to both their health and their environment. Among other things, they object to a payment in lieu of taxes agreement that Monongalia County officials approved in 2003.

The deal would give the county $105 million over 30 years. Without it, the PSC said, Longview would have built the plant in nearby Greene County, Pa., giving West Virginia all the negative impacts and none of the financial gain.

“The people of Monongalia County do not want this power plant, period,” said environmentalist James Kotcon. “We certainly do not want to give them huge tax breaks, especially when the evidence shows they can pay their fair share of taxes and still make huge profits.”

Paula Hunt of Citizens for Alternatives to Longview Power said that except for the new conditions, the PSC’s order “appears to be an almost verbatim copy of the proposed order Longview wrote and submitted on April 24.”

“In other words,” she charged, “the PSC allowed Longview to write its own permit.”

To address concerns over noise, however, the PSC ruling requires Longview to: limit explosions and loud construction practices to the hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; install silencers on safety steam valves; build noise buffers; accept coal by conveyor rather than truck; and install noise monitors at four nearby homes.

There is little Longview can do, though, to address citizen demands that they minimize the impacts on current viewsheds.

“They are inherent in the project,” the PSC ruled. “If the project is constructed, it will be visible. It will have lights, steam and a tall stack. These things cannot be changed.”

On the Net:

PSC ruling: http://www.psc.state.wv.us/imaged-files/Orders/2006-06/ord20060626161347.pdf Longview Power: http://www.genpower.net/longview

Citizens for Alternatives to Longview Power: http://www.nolongview.org

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