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West Virginia environmental regulators have approved a key permit for a natural gas-fired power plant in Monongalia County.

The decision dismisses opponents’ arguments that planned air quality protection measures are inadequate and the project’s greenhouse climate emissions are unacceptable amid worsening climate change.

The Department of Environmental Protection approved the air quality permit for Longview Power’s Mountain State Clean Energy LLC to construct the 1,275-megawatt facility to be located north of the Longview coal-fired plant in Maidsville.

The project is slated to be a gas-fired, combined-cycle plant that will supply electricity to the power grid, linking to it via an interconnection used by the coal-fired plant.

The DEP’s Division of Air Quality issued Mountain State Clean Energy the permit on Jan. 5, concluding that the project would meet all applicable state and federal regulations.

The permit allows annual carbon dioxide equivalent emissions of 2,227,260 tons per year for each emission point for a Mitsubishi Hibachi Power Series M501JAC combustion turbine and 2,563,571 tons per year for a General Electric 7HA.03 combustion turbine.

Mountain State Clean Energy may construct either two of the former or two of the latter combustion turbines under the permit. Carbon dioxide equivalent is the number of metric tons of CO2 emissions with the same global warming potential as one metric ton of another greenhouse gas.

The final permit added a condition to limit the annual discharge of carbon dioxide equivalent by specific combustion turbine model after the Division of Air Quality said the permit, as previously proposed, did not have a reasonable cap for annual carbon dioxide equivalent emissions.

Jim Kotcon, conservation chairman of the Sierra Club’s West Virginia chapter, was among the environmentalists and residents who objected to the project at the DEP’s October public comment hearing on the proposed permit.

“The WV Chapter of Sierra Club is very concerned about proposals for large new sources of greenhouse gases, such as the misnamed ‘Mountain State Clean Energy’,” Kotcon said in an email Monday. “It is not clear how a facility emitting millions of tons of greenhouse gases could claim to be ‘Clean Energy’.”

The allowed limit in carbon dioxide equivalent per megawatt hour of gross output rises from 852 pounds in years one through six gradually up to 939 in years 31 and later, incremental degradation that Kotcon objected to in written comments.

Kotcon said allowing for up to a 10% increase in carbon dioxide equivalent emissions in years 31 and later directly contradicts the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Division of Air Quality replied in its own written comments that unit degradation is inevitable, and that setting a lifelong achievable carbon dioxide limit “would not encourage [Mountain State Clean Energy] to implement a good maintenance program and focus on maintaining unit performance from day one.”

The International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization consisting of 30 member countries, said in May that investors should not fund any new coal, oil or natural gas projects if the world is to reach net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.

Earth must meet the mid-century deadline to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avert the worst effects of climate change, the agency reiterated in a road map for the global energy sector that included the new recommendation to end all new fossil fuel projects.

Area union officials pushed state environmental regulators to approve the permit at the October hearing. They argued that constructing the plant would create jobs for their members.

The Division of Air Quality noted in its final determination that Mountain State Clean Energy had questioned the need for leak detection and repair requirements in the permit. But the company did not justify why proposed leak detection and repair measures weren’t necessary to minimize natural gas leaks.

The permit requires Mountain State Clean Energy to implement a plan to monitor all fugitive emissions.

The permit also requires the company to repair any such emissions within 30 days of detecting them, or ensure repair or replacement during the next scheduled facility maintenance shutdown, after a planned vent blowdown, or within two years — whichever is the earliest — if the repair or replacement is technically infeasible, would require a vent blowdown, a facility shutdown or is unsafe to address during unit operation.

In response to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concerns about the fence line used in a modeling demonstration in the permit application, the Division of Air Quality added a requirement that Mountain State Clean Energy install and maintain an industrial fence or other physical barrier system around the facility to keep the public from accessing the facility.

Located 3,000 feet west of the Monongahela River, the site is slated to operate two pipeline-gas compressor units.

The proposed start-up date for the facility is Jan. 1, 2025, according to the DEP.

Mountain State Clean Energy LLC formally changed its name from Longview Power II LLC in November. That name change came seven months after the West Virginia Public Service Commission issued a certificate to the company to construct and operate the gas-fired facility and a 70-megawatt utility-scale solar facility — 20 megawatts to be located in West Virginia and 50 megawatts in Pennsylvania.

The commission also approved construction and installation of a 500-kilovolt electric transmission line extending approximately three quarters of a mile north from the gas-fired facility.

Longview Power II LLC and Longview Renewable Power LLC, a separate company granted the solar siting certificate that subsequently changed its name to Mountain State Renewables LLC, estimated that the cost to construct the gas-fired facility would be $1.1 billion, according to the Public Service Commission.

The Monongalia County Commission approved a 30-year, $58 million payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with the Longview parties in December 2020.

Mon Valley Clean Air Coalition coordinator and Morgantown resident Duane Nichols argued in written comments to state environmental regulators and at the October hearing that it would be environmentally unjust for the plant to be located near West Virginia University medical facilities, University High School, health centers and other public sites of importance.

Nichols decried what he said was an excessive number of diesel coal trucks per day traveling along Fort Martin Road, causing air and noise pollution.

Nichols said greenhouse gas emissions from the planned plant would add to long-term exposure for area students, patients in medical treatment and older residents in care facilities, exacerbating an environmental justice issue he contends already exists with Longview Power’s 700-megawatt coal-fired plant and FirstEnergy’s 1,107-megawatt coal-fired Fort Martin Power Station nearby.

Those two plants emitted a combined 11,720,168 tons of carbon dioxide in 2019, resulting in health impacts that included 82 deaths and 4,173 lost work days, according to a Clean Air Task Force analysis of state data derived from a federal screening model.

“Perhaps these plants will need to shut down in a few years, when our nation decides to take ‘climate change’ seriously,” Nichols said in an email. “For now, there will not be a ‘new normal’ for Monongalia County and the surrounding region.”

Mountain State Clean Energy could not be reached for comment for this report.

Mike Tony covers energy and the environment. He can be reached at 304-348-1236 or mtony@hdmediallc

.com. Follow @Mike__Tony on Twitter.

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