Plant still possible for Beech Bottom

BEECH BOTTOM – As they tabled a proposed tax break for Energy Solutions Consortium on Tuesday, not all Beech Bottom officials were convinced they've heard the last of the company's plans to build two gas-fired power plants there. And Pat Ford, executive director of the Business Development Council of the Northern Panhandle, said their suspicions are correct. “The Beech Bottom site hasn't been taken off the table for consideration for the power plant. We recently received correspondence from the Energy Solutions Consortium that the Beech Bottom site is still in play,” said Ford, who was called for comment. “A point of intense discussion was the value of an option agreement (for the Beech Bottom site) and we continue to negotiate that fine point with the Energy Solutions Consortium,” he said. Ford confirmed ESC hadn't been interested in paying for the option agreement but parties involved, including Hackman Capital Partners, which owns leasing rights for the site, continue to discuss that. He said the BDC will continue to work with ESC in exploring various locations, noting company officials have indicated they also are looking at sites in Ohio and Pennsylvania. “We want to keep as many properties in Brooke County in play as possible,” he said. Council agreed to table the second reading of an in lieu of tax agreement, but Mayor Becky Uhlly said she hadn't ruled out the possibility ESC could carry out earlier plans to build near the former Wheeling Corrugating plant. “Hackman Capital hasn't come to any purchasing agreement, so everything's kind of stalled out in Beech Bottom, but who knows about tomorrow?” she said. “When this all comes out in the wash, they may be back again,” Uhlly added. ESC officials had approached council and the Brooke County commission and school board for support of tentative plans to build two power plants near the former corrugating plant, an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars. All three approved memorandums of understanding supporting in lieu of tax agreements for the plants, knowing that ESC also was considering other sites and the plants were pending approval by regulatory agencies. But on Monday ESC approached Follansbee Council with tentative plans to build a plant in the city, saying plans for Beech Bottom fell through. Ford said it's not uncommon for a new business to consider and negotiate for various locations and revisit options, but much of that occurs behind closed doors. He said the public is more aware of ESC's ongoing negotiations because of the agreements the company has sought from local government entities. Ford said the company must be able to show there is local support for the plants when seeking approval from the PJM Interconnection, a regional authority that coordinates the movement of wholesale energy in all or parts of 13 states. ESC officials said they must submit such agreements and other documentation to the PJM this month. Uhlly confirmed as with Follansbee, the village's in lieu of tax agreement would have called for taxes to be capped at $33,000 per year for 30 years, but unlike Follansbee, the village wouldn't have received business and occupation taxes from contractors building the plants. The first reading for the agreement received a 4-2 vote, with Uhlly and council members Ted Westfall, Sharon Jordan and Debbie Murdock supporting it and Councilmen Bob Sadler and Greg Sheperd against. Sadler said he had little advance information when council was asked to consider the agreement. “We didn't want to bring something in that was going to create a problem for our residents,” he said. But Sadler said he feels more confident about the plants since learning more about them, visiting a similar plant in German Township, Pa. and speaking to officials there.

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