CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Economic Development Authority on Wednesday unanimously approved a $5.5 million loan guarantee for the proposed Brooke County Power plant project.
The authority’s approval checked one of the final boxes the project needed before construction can begin, which the original proposal projected would be in 2022.
A swarm of uncertainty surrounded the vote Wednesday. The authority was set to vote for approval of the loan guarantee during its Aug. 20 board meeting, but the item was pulled from the agenda without explanation and a clear reason was never given.
Members of the trades union, oil and gas industry and public, lawmakers and county commissioners were afraid that $5,518,865 was going to derail the entire near-billion-dollar project. The coal industry tanked West Virginia’s first attempt to build the state’s first natural gas-fired power plant nearly four years ago, and some stakeholders said they feared it was going to happen again.
Many of these stakeholders spoke in support Wednesday during the meeting’s public comment period. No members of the public spoke against the project. The board went into executive session for nearly an hour to discuss the project before returning for a vote.
Authority board member Joe Eddy offered one amendment to the loan guarantee that altered one of the stipulations Gov. Jim Justice asked the authority to review, that the natural gas powering the plant must be from West Virginia.
The project’s site, in Colliers, Brooke County, sits just miles from the border with Pennsylvania. The developer’s plan is to connect the plant to the existing Rover Pipeline in Pennsylvania, because there is no pipeline in West Virginia that can reach Colliers.
“As part of the motion, I would ask that we amend stipulation No. 1 by removing the existing language and replace the existing language ‘with No. 1, use good-faith, best efforts to secure West Virginia-sourced natural gas for use in the plant,’” Eddy said.
The amendment passed 6-1, with board chairman Michael Graney voting against it. Graney could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
After the meeting, Brooke County Commissioner AJ Thomas said he was pleased with the authority’s decision. He said he believes the plant will serve as a catalyst for major economic growth in the region.
“We’re just very thankful that they took all the facts into consideration at the end of the day and did what was right for not just this region in the Northern Panhandle but the entire state,” Thomas said. “This sends a message that the state will be a good partner to any developing businesses here, and I think that it’s going to be something that we look back on and realize that’s what drove us forward 20 years from now.”
Drew Dorn, president of Energy Solutions Consortium, the company behind the project, wrote in a statement that the company is thankful for the approval.
“Brooke County Power wants to extend its appreciation for the vote of confidence by the West Virginia Economic Development Authority, and special thanks (to) those who spoke on behalf of the project, including the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the West Virginia Independent Oil and Gas Association, the Affiliated Construction Trades and numerous representatives of local trade unions — all who testified to the power plant utilizing local labor and local natural gas,” he wrote.
Construction is projected to infuse $1.25 billion into the local economy, and the facility’s annual economic impact is expected to top $440 million, according to an economic analysis conducted by former West Virginia University chief economist Tom Witt.
The facility would be West Virginia’s first natural gas-fired power plant, capable of powering the equivalent of 700,000 homes.
More than 1,000 construction workers are needed to build the plant. Officials estimate that the project will create 1,164 jobs related to maintenance, supplies and other services once it’s built. The plant would require 30 full-time workers.