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Ohio Valley group opposes natural gas subsidies

WHEELING, W.Va. — Murray Energy officials cited the “increased use of natural gas in the Ohio Valley area to generate electricity” as one of the reasons for eliminating more than 750 coal mining jobs in Ohio, Marshall and Belmont counties last week.

Although no local natural gas-fired power plants are online yet, Moundsville Power developer Andrew Dorn said his $615 million facility – set to generate 549 megawatts along the Ohio River in Marshall County before June 2018 – will enter the construction phase this fall. Dorn said Wednesday his plant may create $8 billion worth of economic activity over a projected 35-year span, while employing 30 full-time workers.

Dorn acknowledges, however, that production and usage of natural gas does not lead to similar levels of employment in comparison to coal. Once a natural gas well enters its production level, very few workers are needed. This is contrary to coal mining, which requires a steady supply of employees to keep working.

“Natural gas can replace the wattage, but it cannot replace the jobs. Coal is very labor intensive – natural gas is not,” Dorn said.

Citing the coal mining job reductions, as well as the Payment In Lieu of Tax plans Marshall County leaders approved to help attract Dorn’s plant, the Ohio Valley Jobs Alliance launched this week. Cameron area resident Bruce Whipkey, a retired coal miner, is the organization’s president.

“Our group is opposed to the deal that has been struck to build a gas power plant in Marshall County,” Whipkey said. “Government should not be picking winners and losers in business – and government should not get to determine who works and who doesn’t.”

“Our coal mines and power plants have employed thousands of our local residents for decades. Why should we be forced to give up more jobs and more taxes so that one business can get a special deal that will cost us jobs and tax revenue?” Whipkey added.

However, Dorn said American Electric Power announced plans to close Marshall County’s coal-fired Kammer Plant before he moved to develop his natural gas plant.

He said the Environmental Protection Agency, via its Mercury and Air Toxics Standards Clean Power Plan, is the enemy of coal.

“The reason coal is going away is because of the EPA. All we are doing is making use of the largest pool of natural gas in the U.S. to generate some electricity right here in West Virginia,” Dorn said.

Dorn said his generator will place power onto the PJM Interconnection grid for use wherever there is a need for electricity. West Virginia is one of the 13 states whose power supply is regulated by PJM, so some of the electricity could be used in the Mountain State.

Dorn also said his plant’s fuel will consist of about 25 percent ethane. He said this should not create any problem for a potential ethane cracker endeavor, such as the $5.7 billion PTT Global Chemical project – that would be just across the Ohio River from the Moundsville Power plant site – in the Dilles Bottom area.

“There is more than enough ethane to go around,” he said.

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