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Duke Energy plant closer to reality

HANGING ROCK – Duke Energy crossed one of its final hurdles Thursday, receiving Ohio EPA draft permits to install a 1,240-megawatt natural gas fired power plant.

Friday, October 05, 2001

HANGING ROCK – Duke Energy crossed one of its final hurdles Thursday, receiving Ohio EPA draft permits to install a 1,240-megawatt natural gas fired power plant.

Now, only the formality of final state permits and Duke’s own internal approvals remain, but county leaders say they’re confident all approvals will come.

"This means construction can start soon," said Hamilton Township trustee president Bob Blankenship, who’s been watching the company’s situation closely. "They’ve said if we didn’t get it (the draft air permit) this week, it would have pushed the project back two months."

With final permits imminent, Blankenship foresees the company’s projected 300 to 400 construction jobs coming to town this year – just in time to boost Lawrence County’s dwindling economy.

Duke construction – coupled with construction at Calpine’s similar power plant that’s only a few months behind – will not only put some of the county’s unemployed back to work, but should boost sales tax figures.

A recent dip in sales tax revenue has already forced the county commissioners to issue its second spending freeze of the year to stave off budget shortfalls.

If construction starts by early November, it could turn the county’s situation around, commission president Paul Herrell said.

"I don’t know how much it will improve, but it will improve," Herrell said. "People go to buying when they’re making money."

Commissioner Jason Stephens has called Duke’s project, as well as Calpine’s, a staging point for an economic boom.

"Those workers are going to buy a new car, or a new set of tires, more gas to drive back and forth to work and it’s not going to be for just a couple of months, it will be a couple of years," Stephens said. "And it couldn’t have come at a better time. This is fantastic news."

The plant, planned adjacent to County Road 1A, will use natural gas fired boilers to make turn steam turbines. The resulting electricity will be distributed through American Electric Power’s 765-kilovolt Hanging Rock substation.

It recently won Ohio Power Siting Board approval, and now – in the wake of the draft permits – it’s winning smiles.

"There will be dollars coming into the county this year; it finalizes the idea of paying off Rock Hill schools early; and then there’s the tax base from Duke," Blankenship said, grinning.