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Monday, October 26,2009

Sierra Club questions proposed AMP power plant's economic viability

By Athens NEWS Staff

In an effort to pull the plug on the American Municipal Power (AMP) coal-burning power plant under development in Meigs County, the Sierra Club has issued a report claiming that Columbus, Cleveland and 79 other municipalities made a bad financial "œgamble" by investing in the plant. However, local officials say the project will only boost the southeast Ohio economy.

The city of Athens and municipalities in Meigs County are not members of the AMP utility network and will not buy power from the plant.

Even so, Meigs County development officials predict the project will bring hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars to the region.

The estimated cost of the proposed plant increased from $1.5 billion in 2006 to more than $3 billion in 2008, while Ohio's demand for electricity continues to lag behind the rest of the country and may not increase in the future, according to the Sierra Club report.

The report also points out that state energy-efficiency standards approved by Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland last year and federal climate-change legislation currently being debated in Congress could reduce demand for electricity in the future.

The report recommends that municipalities invested in the plant cancel their 50-year contracts with AMP in favor of "preserving flexibility" and investing in "more economically secure" options such as energy-efficiency programs and alternative-energy sources.

AMP, however, is building the plant in response to "an increasingly volatile wholesale electric market," according to a release.

The plant may be an economic gamble for participating municipalities, but local development officials say it will bring broad economic opportunities to a struggling county and region.

Perry Varnadoe, director of the Meigs County Economic Development Office, said the plant will have a "huge" economic impact on Athens, Meigs and four other counties in southeast Ohio.

The plant will employ 1,600 construction workers and 165 full-time, permanent operators, according to an AMP release.

In September Meigs County had the state's second highest unemployment rate at 15.2 percent, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. The Athens County unemployment rate was 8.6 percent, and Ohio's rate was 9.7 percent.

Ten sectors of the Meigs County regional economy, including construction, manufacturing and health services, would produce a total economic output of $244 million over four years as a result of construction of a new coal-burning power plant in Meigs, according to a Ohio State University report.

Four power plants in Ohio and West Virginia already burn coal within approximately 10 miles of site where AMP wants to build the new facility.

AMP has received all necessary state permits for the plant, and construction could begin in late 2009 or early 2010. AMP expects the plant to go on-line in 2014.

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups have appealed two Ohio EPA permits for the plant, including the controversial air permit-to-install, on the grounds the permits do not comply with the Clean Air and Water acts.

Appeal hearings could stretch into 2010, but state law allows AMP to break ground during the appeals, and the non-profit utility has vowed to "continue development" despite the challenges from environmental groups.


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