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West Virginia Economic Development Authority OKs direct loan for Brooke County Power plant

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Economic Development Authority approved the Brooke County Power project for a direct loan to help the natural gas plant become closer to a reality.

According to the West Virginia Department of Commerce, the board of directors for the West Virginia Economic Development Authority approved a $5.5 million direct loan to Energy Solutions Consortium Brooke County Power project on Sept. 9.

“We look forward to the potential of this project to continue the diversification and growth of West Virginia’s energy economy,” said Ed Gaunch, cabinet secretary for the Department of Commerce in a statement issued Tuesday.

Energy Solutions Consortium was seeking a $5.6 million loan guarantee from the Economic Development Authority for the proposed natural gas-power electrical plant, but the Economic Development Authority believed a direct loan would be a better course of action for the project. Drew Dorn, CEO of Energy Solutions Consortium, said he considers the loan a sign of good faith from the state.

“Brooke County Power appreciates the confidence that the West Virginia Economic Development Authority has placed in this important project — which will become the largest downstream user of natural gas in the Mountain State,” he said.

Once complete, the 830-megawatt merchant power plant could provide energy to as many as 700,000 homes and sell power to PJM Interconnection’s 13-state wholesale energy market. 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.

Steve White, director for the Affiliated Construction Trades, said the approval of the loan came as “great relief.”

“We have worked hard to support this project and it means close to $100 million in wages and benefits for local construction,” White said by phone Tuesday

The plant is expected to have a $1.25 billion economic impact for West Virginia 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.

The plant would be fed natural gas from a pipeline through southwestern Pennsylvania connected to the Rover Pipeline, which delivers natural gas to Canada from West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Energy Solutions Consortium states that the plant will require $177.5 million annually of natural gas.

The plant was supported by natural gas trade groups, as well as the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

“The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce is pleased to see the West Virginia Economic Development Authority make a loan … for ESC Brooke County Power,” said Brian Dayton, vice president of policy and advocacy for the chamber. “This project exemplifies the type of downstream investment we have been seeking from our state’s vast natural gas resources.”

“Further, the support of the Brooke County Commission, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the West Virginia Independent Oil and Gas Association and the Affiliated Construction Trades means a great deal to us as we all work together toward a successful power plant utilizing local labor and local natural gas,” Dorn said.

The project came under greater scrutiny after Gov. Jim Justice — whose private coal businesses supply and sell coal to power plants — asked the Economic Development Authority to take another look at the Brooke County Power project, questioning why the plant needed the loan, where the workforce to construct the plant would come from, and what state would provide the natural gas. The West Virginia Coal Association — who endorsed Justice’s re-election campaign for governor — also criticized the project for putting coal miner jobs at risk. Neither the coal association nor Justice were available for comment Tuesday.

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

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