October 6, 2008

Feds Pull Plug on Greenbrier Co-Gen Plant

By Kasey, Pam

Owners of the Western Greenbrier Co-Generation power plant are hoping to resurrect the project even though its federal funding has been pulled.

"There's a lot of interest in this project. We got 3,000 signatures on a petition in just a few clays," said project co- manager Wayne Brown. "We certainly hope that it can still be built."

The Co-Gen plant has been in the planning and permitting stages for about five years. However, back in June, the U.S. Department of Energy sent Brown a letter saying the federal agency had pulled its funding. The government's withdraw of support did not become public knowledge until early September.

The Co-Gen plant is jointly owned by the western Greenbrier County towns of Rainelle, Rupert and Quinwood. It was conceived as the anchor tenant in a proposed Rainelle Eco-Park the towns hoped would bring many positive changes to the area.

"There was a tremendous amount of hope placed on this," said Quinwood Mayor Gene Wright.

The plant would have had a capacity of 98 megawatts and would have been fueled by coal and coal refuse or "gob" from an abandoned coal mine at Anjean. The use of that gob would help to clean up the old mine site over time.

Plant planners hoped to use some of the fly ash to neutralize acid mine drainage coming off the site.

They also planned to use some of it in a facility that would manufacture SAB cement, prized for its quick setting and high early strength.

And they'd acquired the exclusive rights east of the Mississippi River to manufacture Woodbrick, a high-insulation-value building material made with wood byproducts and fly ash.

Including Eco-Park greenhouses and aquaculture ponds heated by steam from the plant, the project was expected to create at least 1,000 construction jobs and 50 permanent jobs.

"All the profits were going to be divided equally between the three towns and we could use this money to just enhance this whole end of the county," Wright said. "It was a tremendous project with tremendous possibilities and opportunities."

Wright blames the loss of DOE funding on delays resulting from repeated challenges to the plant's environmental performance, including concerns about air quality and about excessive withdrawals from and discharges of warm water into the Meadow River.

"(The environmentalists') thing is, this is a tourist county - we don't need industry, we don't need manufacturing, you're going to pollute the air," Wright said. "They didn't even live here. That's the sad part. They don't understand how people have to survive."

Brown has blamed the delays on federal unwillingness to commit. Whatever the reason, the cost of the plant nearly doubled with the delays, from $215 million to $416 million.

DOE's $107 million share of the financing became an increasingly small part of it and the project managers struggled to piece the rest of the funding together.

The Register-Herald in Beckley reported that the project over time has failed to pay $6 million in loans and engineering fees, at least $4.2 million of which was absorbed by the West Virginia Development Office.

If Co-Gen is not built, the state Department of Environmental Protection is responsible for cleaning up the Anjean refuse Royal Scot Minerals abandoned in 1999, forfeiting a $3.1 million bond to the agency.

It will be a different kind of cleanup.

"(Western Greenbrier Co-Generation was) going to remove the coal gob or refuse," said Ken Ellison, who directs the DEP's Division of Land Restoration. "We will reclaim it in place, and we will continue treating the water, which we're doing currently."

The cost of regrading the waste in place was estimated at one point at about $2.3 million, although it may be higher now, Ellison said. Water treatment currently costs $373,000 a year and will have to be continued.

Based on DEP's current reclamation schedule, Ellison expects Anjean might be cleaned up by 2011.

But the Western Greenbrier Co-Generation partnership has not given up yet.

"It's going to depend on the next administration and the energy policy that they go with," Brown said.

The project team plans to hold a public meeting the week of Sept. 15. A time and place for the meeting has not yet been set.

Copyright State Journal Corporation Sep 12, 2008

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