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George Hohmann: Gauging cracker demand

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Aither Chemicals of South Charleston, which is raising money to build ethane crackers, said last month that several companies have expressed interest in supplying ethane to a cracker in the Kanawha Valley.But who would buy the cracker's products?Aither announced last month that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Bayer MaterialScience to conduct an "open season" to gauge market interest for chemicals and plastics that would be produced by a Kanawha Valley cracker.Aither said the cracker it wants to build could produce numerous products including ethylene, acetic acid, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, which could be sold "at competitive market pricing," or could be used to make derivatives and other products such as ethylene oxide.The open season ran from June 22 to July 20.Last week Leonard Dolhert, Aither's chief executive officer, was asked to characterize his reaction to the open season responses. Dolhert also was asked if there were more -- or fewer -- responses than he had hoped.Dolhert's reply: "The open season went extremely well. We will get back to you soon with more details."Bayer and Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Renewable Manufacturing Gateway are helping evaluate the market responses. Aither previously said it would decide on next steps by Aug. 31.*
Last week Kathy Shafer called to say her mother and two other individuals have about 600 acres for sale off Exit 132 of Interstate 77. Shafer wondered why it isn't being considered for a cracker.Shafer also contacted state Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette. He thanked her for the information about the property and promised to forward it to the appropriate state economic development representatives."While this will be a great site for many things, it misses one major requirement for a cracker site, a river," Burdette wrote. "Those companies that are currently reviewing sites for an ethane cracker require a navigable river as one of the prerequisites. That is why the searches to date have focused on the Kanawha and Ohio River areas."*Suddenlink Communications' monthly bills provide a detailed list of fees and charges, including a one-cent monthly fee that goes to the West Virginia Public Service Commission.Although the PSC regulates utilities in the state, by state law, cable providers are not to be regulated as utilities. However, the commission has jurisdiction over cable television quality-of-service issues and is the franchising authority for cable providers to operate in Nicholas and Gilmer counties.
Elsewhere in West Virginia other issues, such as extension of service, are governed by the terms of the franchise agreements that cable companies reach with county commissions and municipalities. But even on those issues customers may file complaints with the PSC.PSC spokeswoman Susan Small said the one-cent monthly fee, provided in state law, is used by the PSC to offset the cost of taking formal and informal complaints and for serving as the document clearinghouse for the county commissions and municipalities.Reach George Hohmann at or 304-348-4836. 
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