Debate Continues On Power Plant

MOUNDSVILLE – Taking a few minutes to speak between meetings with state regulators, Moundsville Power Managing Partner Andrew Dorn said he continues working to build a $615 million natural gas power plant – despite the political debate over the Payment in Lieu of Tax agreement that would help make it a reality.

“We met with the (West Virginia Public Service Commission) today,” Dorn said. “We are moving forward as best we can. We hope the PILOT happens sooner than later.”

Marshall County commissioners Bob Miller and Brian Schambach find themselves on opposite sides of the debate regarding whether they should agree to the proposed PILOT, which would call for the county to take official ownership of the natural gas power plant for $1, while the company would lease the facility from the county. Commissioners would receive about $31 million worth of lease payments over 30 years via the PILOT plan, about $13 million less than County Assessor Christopher Kessler estimates they would collect if the plant paid normal property taxes.

“I question the legitimacy of PILOTs. There is no question in my mind that it should not proceed,” Miller said. “I support it as it was originally promised, with private ownership.”

West Virginia Department of Revenue Deputy Secretary Mark Muchow said the PILOT provision has been in state code since 1933. However, John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University, said such programs can make it difficult for governments to collect taxes effectively.

Schambach said Dorn considered proceeding with Moundsville Power as a totally private project during its “discovery phase,” but said he believes the 37.5-acre tract along the Ohio River will remain vacant without the PILOT agreement.

“Eliminating the PILOT would be a deal-breaker,” Schambach said. “We are not going to invest a dime in this. We are not going to manage it. We are just taking the title to help them abate some taxes.”

Schambach and Commissioner Don Mason have not committed to voting for the proposed PILOT agreement, as Schambach said he needs to be convinced the county will not be held liable for any problems at the site.

“We are waiting to hear from the insurance experts that have the acumen and the expertise,” Schambach said. “We will meet with environmental experts who will test to determine what contaminants are in the soil now. We want to ensure that if (Moundsville Power) puts additional contaminants in there, we are indemnified.”

“Pretty much, we don’t want to be liable for any of this,” Schambach said, while emphasizing much of the proposed development area is classified as a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Miller, however, remains steadfast in opposition to the proposed PILOT agreement, noting he is against “government ownership of business.”

“I don’t know how over 30 years they can make any guarantees. There are no guarantees in this life,” he said. “If the insurance company would fail, we could be liable.”

Nevertheless, Dorn continues pressing forward in an effort to convince commissioners they will not be liable in the event of an environmental catastrophe.

“We will make sure that, once the plant is operating, there will be nothing on-site that will pollute the environment,” he said. “We will insure the plant so that there will be no liability.”

Dorn maintains the $615 million price tag for the proposed natural gas electricity generator would be met with private financing. He said his plant would be a “combined-cycle” facility that would use natural gas to run one of its turbines, while using the exhaust heat from this process to drive an additional steam turbine.

If completed, Dorn estimates the plant operators would hire about 30 full-time employees. Members of the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation believe their construction workers could receive as much as $70 million worth of wages for building the facility.