Power plant deal still in works

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 20, 2005

An old plan may soon emerge with a new look, bringing renewed excitement to economic development leaders in Lawrence County.

Though still far from a reality, talks are under way that could ultimately lead to millions or billions of dollars invested in a coal gasification power plant in Hamilton Township. The project is not as new as it may sound.

Just say the name &#8220Calpine Corporation” to local officials and they will wax poetic about what might have been.

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More than five years ago, Calpine was the key player in a proposed plan to construct a massive power plant on 280 acres in Hamilton Township on land between U.S. 52 and the Ohio River across from Duke Energy. The sluggish economy and Calpine's financial troubles killed the deal.

What many don't remember is that CME North American Merchant Energy, a Massachusetts-based power company, had actually created the vision. Well, CME is back at the helm of a potential deal and company officials again see great things for Lawrence County.

&#8220We still think the site is a great site,” said CME president Bill Martin, a key player in putting the first proposed deal together. &#8220So, we are looking to re-envision what this project is.”

CME been a part of the development of electric power projects on four continents.

Experts contend coal gasification plants are much cleaner than old-fashioned coal-fired plants. A gasification plant turns coal into a gas and eliminates most of the harmful emissions. The gas can be utilized a number of ways including generating of electricity. The plants also create other chemicals and byproducts that could be utilized by other industries.

Ohio's coal would work well in the process, Martin said. A new air permit application was submitted to Ohio Environmental Protection Agency on March 1 and the new permit has been issued for 1,100 megawatts, according to the company's Web site.

&#8220My company is in the business of developing electrical power plants, so that is still our intent,” he said.

Economic development leaders and government officials remain tightlipped about details. Still, the potential of such a big project has many looking toward the future.

&#8220The possibility of the project being talked about is really, really exciting,” said commissioner Jason Stephens. &#8220(The county commissioners) want to do everything we can to make sure it will happen.

&#8220Š I think it is exciting any time our area can tap into modern technology. It makes us positioned well for the future. Š It will take a team effort of the leaders and the community, everyone will have to pitch in, similar to what happened with Duke. We still have many hurdles to cross.”