Justice questions need for new Brooke County power plant

FILE - West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice delivers his annual State of the State address in the House Chambers at the state capitol in Charleston, W.Va., Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. Nursing home visits are being allowed again in West Virginia as the state focuses on coronavirus outbreaks in the general populations of individual counties without clamping down on areas without them. Justice warned Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, that the visits could end quickly in some places if further outbreaks occur within nursing homes themselves. (AP Photo/Chris Jackson, File)

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday that the Brooke County ESC natural gas power plant project is not dead, but the coal magnate questioned the need for the plant, the loan guarantee request, where the gas would come from and how many jobs the plant would create.

Speaking Wednesday during a virtual press briefing from the Capitol, Justice said the Department of Commerce still needed questions answered regarding the Energy Solutions Consortium Brooke County Power project, a proposed 830-megawatt natural gas power plant.

“The media has run with this and really just perpetuated something that they felt like was a dead issue, and it’s not dead,” Justice said. “It’s not dead at all, but you expect me as your governor and our staff to be able to have things run to ground and questions answered. Now, it’s going to take some time. It’s not going to happen the day after tomorrow or the next day.”

The plant would sell electrical power on PJM Interconnection’s wholesale energy market, which serves 13 states. According to the company, the construction of the plant would create 1,164 direct and indirect jobs, provide a $440 million economic impact to Brooke County and the surrounding area, spur additional natural gas production and provide electricity to as many as 700,000 homes.

The Brooke County Commission is rallying support for the power plant from lawmakers, the business community and building trades groups after learning that the state Economic Development Authority has not agreed to assume the debt for a $5.6 million private loan in case the developers are not able to pay the loan back.

“Why in the world if this project was valid and really a go, why would the powers-that-be be struggling and needing a state loan guarantee,” Justice said. “In other words, you’ve got people who are perpetuating this and this is becoming the ultimate real estate with no money down. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense.”

Justice said he is concerned about the company’s claims about job creation and where they plan to source the natural gas needed for the plant. According to the company’s application with the Public Service Commission, they expect 75 percent of the construction jobs to come from West Virginia workers. The plant, when completed, would require 30 full-time and part-time jobs.

“I’m told that at the end of the construction period this is going to secure 20 jobs per year. That’s it,” Justice said. “In addition to that, a great many of the workers who would be working on the plant, if it ever became a reality, would be coming from out-of-state.”

The plant also would connect into local natural gas pipeline infrastructure, including the Rover pipeline, a 713-mile pipeline which feeds natural gas from West Virginia to Canada. Equitrans, formerly EQT, is building a 17-mile pipeline from Pennsylvania to feed gas for the plant from the Rover pipeline.

“I’ve been told that the way it was presented to us and came to me just weeks ago, is 100 percent of this gas was coming from a pipeline that would be constructed into Pennsylvania,” Justice said. “It’s going to take some time to get answers and assurances that we’re surely not going to build a plant and everything for the people of Pennsylvania.”

Justice stressed his support for the natural gas industry. Last summer, Justice created the Governor’s Downstream Jobs Task Force, co-chaired by Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Austin Caperton and Department of Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy.

The goal of the task force is to encourage the growth of manufacturing and infrastructure reliant on natural gas.

Still, Justice’s support for coal is well known. Most of Justice’s companies deal with mining and selling coal to power plants. Justice’s re-election campaign for governor was just recently endorsed by the West Virginia Coal Association. And last summer, Justice helped push through the Legislature a $12 million tax break for another wholesale power producer, the coal-fired Pleasants Power Plant.

“I absolutely believe that the gas industry and the downstream benefits of gas are our future in many, many ways,” Justice said. “I am as pro-gas as I can possibly be with a good smart business head. Do we need additional generation in this state? If we close another plant for the betterment of this plant, are our ratepayers going to have to pay for years because the plant wasn’t paid off? We need a lot of questions answered. Our people are trying to get answers and work through those.

“There are so many questions to be answered from the standpoint of whether these people can really get funding,” Justice said. “Or is the state going to be on the hook for a loan guarantee and just toast away $5 million dollars that we need for other things. Can they get the funding? Are they going to use West Virginia workers to build it? Is the gas going to come from West Virginia? There’s so many other things.”

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)


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