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County finalizes 30-year agreement

Deal will result in $60.7 million for use within area

With a capacity, albeit socially distanced, crowd in attendance, the Monongalia County Commission finalized a 30-year agreement with daughter companies of Longview Power on Wednesday, clearing the way for the company’s billion-dollar gas and solar expansion.

 The agreement, which has been in the works for some 18 months between the commission, Longview and the Monongalia County Board of Education, will result in $60.7 million for use within the county.

Those dollars include $2.5 million when Longview — going under Mountain State Renewables for the solar facility and Mountain State Clean Energy for the gas facility — finalizes project financing.

Once construction is complete, just over $58.2 million will be paid over the next 30 years. Those funds will be split between PILOT or payments in lieu of taxes ($3,100,000) and lease payments ($55,122,516).

Because this agreement is structured so the bulk of the money comes through lease payments, the commission needed additional consideration from the board of education.

 To that end, Wednesday’s meeting also included passage of a resolution stating a material portion of any lease payments generated would be allocated “to a vehicle that will seek to ensure the MCBOE needs and projects receive all due consideration for use of such funds.” 

 The resolution also states, “The MCBOE will have a significant voice in any ultimate choices.” 

The PILOT/lease ratio is structured to get around the state holding PILOT payments against school districts when calculating school aid formula, as it is with the original Longview PILOT, passed in 2003 and worth $108 million — $105 million in PILOT payments and $3 million in lease payments.

“About 98% of these dollars will stay here in Mon County as opposed to the other agreement, where only 69% stays here in Mon County,” Commissioner Sean Sikora said.

 The projects will also mean jobs, including thousands of construction jobs during the two-plus-year buildout.

“It’s going to support the community,” Natalie Stone, executive director of the North Central Building and Construction Trades Council, said. “It’s going to employ local workers. It’s going to give people a livable wage. In the state of our economy right now in this country, it’s a huge win for everyone.” 

Stone’s comments were echoed by a representative from the Morgantown Area Partnership and individuals representing regional ironworkers, boilermakers, plumbers and pipefitters.

But not everyone in attendance was so enthusiastic.

Duane Nichols and James Kotcon, both of whom have been critical of the county’s dealings with Longview, said the public should have been given more than a week to look into the proposed agreements.

The county made the documents public upon request  Dec. 9, after getting an approval from the BOE.

Kotcon, the conservation chair for the West Virginia Sierra Club, asked, unsuccessfully, for a 30-day comment period, saying the process has included an “extensive amount of secrecy.” 

“If this commission, after 18 months of secret meetings, is unwilling to give 30 days for the public to review and comment on this, you certainly cannot claim transparency, and you will justify our worst fears,” he said.

 Sikora refuted that the process was  conducted in secret. He said most of the issues being raised by Kotcon, Nichols and others were issues already taken up by the West Virginia Public Service Commission and outside the county commission’s control.

 “It sounds funny, the accusation that this was rushed, because we’ve been living this for two years. We’ve been sweating all those details,” he said, adding, “With COVID, it really took a lot of the attention of the school board. It took a long time to negotiate. To get that off the table took a lot longer than we expected.” 

The expansion will include a 1,200 megawatt combined cycle gas facility powered by two high-efficiency, low-heat-rate gas turbines. It will occupy 54 acres north of and adjacent to the existing coal-fired plant in Maidsville.

It will also include solar array fields near the existing coal plant and in Pennsylvania. Combined, the arrays will generate about 70 megawatts and cover hundreds of acres.

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