Township, county leaders excited about power plants

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 29, 2001

HANGING ROCK – Bob Blankenship’s convinced – County Road 1A will soon pass right by two major natural gas fired power plants.

Friday, June 29, 2001

HANGING ROCK – Bob Blankenship’s convinced – County Road 1A will soon pass right by two major natural gas fired power plants.

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"I think both of them are a go They’re just working out the fine print," the Hamilton Township trustee president said.

Duke Energy’s recent verbal agreement on a tax incentive package for its 1,000-megawatt plant coupled with Calpine’s verbal commitment to constructing an 1,100-megawatt facility makes the point even clearer, Blankenship said.

The township can expect hundreds of millions of dollars in construction salaries, in purchases of local goods and in future jobs, he said.

"The benefits are too many to mention," Blankenship said. "I’ve said it many times, it’s the bright spot not only for Hamilton Township but for the whole county."

Leaders at both companies agree, adopting attitudes that they not only want to help their companies’ bottom lines but Lawrence County’s as well.

"Calpine has made its decision and is going ahead," said George Bacon, project development manager.

The company’s plant – which will use three gas turbines and one steam turbine to generate electricity for the wholesale market – will become a good revenue producer, Bacon said.

More important than salaries from the 30-plus jobs, however, will be tax incentives paid to schools, construction pay and purchases and the impact to local businesses where those receiving paychecks shop, he said.

"The multiplying effect of the whole project is very significant," he added.

Currently, Calpine remains in the engineering and design phase, with state regulatory permits and air permits applied for in May, Bacon said.

The state review applications for 60 days for completeness of plans, which Calpine feels will pass muster, then public hearings and state evaluations will follow, he said.

Once plans are given the nod by state authorities, they will be distributed to the public, Bacon said.

"We’ve found no issues that would prevent the project from going ahead but we won’t be able to break ground until all permits are granted," he said, adding that would take until December at the earliest.

Chuck Claunch, project development director for Duke Energy, said his company’s plans – which are about two month’s ahead of Calpine’s – also continue to move forward.

"We’re on schedule to hopefully have all the approvals (state and local permits) by the end of the year, then we need internal approval," he said.

The plan for Hamilton Township calls for a multi-turbined electrical facility built on 40 acres, also employing 30-plus workers after construction.

Claunch said he will present his "best projects" to Duke leadership around the end of the year, adding the Lawrence County site already looks "very competitive."

The company is in a position to make a quick decision, probably in December; and if it’s favorable, construction would start right away, he said.

The next major hurdle for Duke, however, is the Ohio Power Siting Board, which regulates power plant placement. A local hearing by the board is set for July 17.

If all goes according to plan, both plants will paint a rosy picture for a county that has suffered from thousands of jobs lost and that still faces pressure from a dwindling budget, commission president Paul Herrell said.

Economic falloff caused the county to reduce its budget this year, and ask some officeholders to hold off on purchases for a time. Future power plant tax revenue stands to change that, Herrell said.

"What’s the greatest thing is that Rock Hill’s new schools are being paid off because of the tax incentive package negotiated so far," he said, adding revenue in lieu of taxes will also mean more money for the health department and different county agencies.

"One’s coming, and I know they’re still negotiating the other but it’s going to come," Herrell said. "The future looks brighter."