MOUNDSVILLE - Marshall County Commissioner Bob Miller supports the idea of using natural gas to generate electricity. He just doesn't believe it's a prudent financial move to give away millions of dollars of potential property tax revenue to make it a reality.
Miller said he will oppose a Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement that Mounds-ville Power is seeking to build the proposed $615 million plant in Marshall County. The commission will vote on the agreement at a future date.
Miller stands alone in his opposition to the payment plan, as Commissioners Don Mason and Brian Schambach currently believe the proposed plant's benefits in terms of new jobs and construction outweigh the potential loss of property tax revenue. Both commissioners said they will await further information from Moundsville Power before making a final decision.
Under the proposed PILOT plan, Marshall County would receive about $31 million in lease payments over 30 years from the proposed 549-megawatt plant, which is about $13 million less than county Assessor Christopher Kessler estimates would be collected if the plant paid normal property taxes.
The agreement's terms call for the commission to take official ownership of the plant after it is constructed for $1, and Moundsville Power LLC would lease the facility from the county.
The plant would be sited on a 37.5-acre tract along the Ohio River, some of which is classified as a Superfund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Although Mason, Miller and Schambach recently gave preliminary approval to the PILOT agreement, all emphasize they have not yet signed an actual lease with Moundsville Power. Therefore, any discussion of lease terms is preliminary.
Still, a divide appears to have formed on the commission over how to proceed. Miller said he also has concerns over the county's ownership of the plant.
"I took an oath to do what is best for the count - and I feel that this is not best for the county," Miller said. "I don't want people to be surprised when I vote 'no' on it.
"I am not in favor of government ownership. I feel the state needs to fix the tax structure to make us competitive with other states."
Mason said he is "still on board at this time" with the PILOT plan and also the county's ownership of the facility.
"We have not approved the final agreement," Mason said. "I have been a commissioner for 28 years. I am not going to vote for something that would put this county at risk. I want to hear all the information before making a final decision.
"I am hopeful they can do this while giving us assurances they can operate this in a manner that protects the environment and indemnifies us from potential liability."
Mason said the county has used PILOT agreements in the recent past to help attract developments such as the former Moundsville TeleTech call center and the CertainTeed Gypsum wallboard plant. He also said the county is receiving virtually no property tax revenue from the land in its current state.
"You can't give away something that you don't have," Mason said of the notion the county is giving away millions of dollars in property tax revenue.
"I think the, 'there is nothing there now' idea is a bogus argument. I think somebody would come in and would build there if we left it as is," he said.
"I would welcome Moundsville Power as a private venture. It would be wonderful for AEP or FirstEnergy or Moundsville Power to build a private, natural gas-fired power plant. But as this sits now, I cannot support it."
As with Mason, Schambach is not yet committed to the final agreement, but said he believes Miller's opposition is "premature."
"We are in the middle of doing our due diligence on this project," Schambach said. "We may be able to get 30 full-time, high salary positions, along with hundreds of construction jobs, on a site we thought was a waste dump."
Moundsville Power Managing Partner Andrew Dorn said he sent in the proposed plant's siting application - along with a $200,000 non-refundable fee - for consideration by the Public Service Commission of West Virginia. Dorn had no comment on Miller's position.
"Things are moving along very well. Our timeline is to start construction in June 2015," Dorn said.
Dorn also said the electricity generated at the potential plant would not be any direct replacement for the soon-to-close Kammer Plant. He said demand for electricity along the Eastern Seaboard is driving the need for the plant.
While new EPA carbon reduction regulations threaten coal-fired power plants, Dorn said his proposed natural gas power plant would "easily meet all new EPA carbon requirements."
Dorn has said the $615 million price tag will be met with private financing. He said his proposed facility will be a "combined-cycle" plant that will use natural gas to run one of its turbines, while using the exhaust heat from this process to drive an additional steam turbine.