Student organizations will rally together at Woodburn Circle on Saturday at noon to protest against the construction of a natural gas and solar power plant.
The organizations include WVU Sierra Club Coalition, Mountaineers for Green Design and the Sunrise Movement Greater Morgantown.
Stephen Nelson, chief operating officer of Longview, said the $1.1 billion gas and solar power plant will use regionally produced Marcellus gas, and the solar facility will be one of the largest in Appalachia. Part of the project will be located on Longview’s property in Pennsylvania and part will be in Maidsville, West Virginia.
Alexis Yost, a junior landscape architecture student and member of the Mountaineers for Green Design, said the construction of this plant could have irreversible environmental implications, including water contamination and the release of four million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. She said the construction of the plant poses its own set of problems, such as pipeline installation and deforestation.
She said few people within the Morgantown community are aware of the situation.
“The more you talk about it to people the more you realize no one knows that this is a really big deal,” Yost said.
Jonah Kone, an Americorps Volunteer in Service to America in the WVU Land Use Clinic, said based on most scientific predictions, if carbon emissions are not reduced within 13 years, catastrophic impacts of climate change will become inescapable. He said this plant would simply add fuel to the fire.
“For one, the Sierra Club and the Sunrise Movement are adamantly against any new fossil fuel infrastructure,” Kone said. “The reality is renewable energy can be competitive in West Virginia. We have a ton of untapped potential.”
Kone said with this project in particular, one of the biggest problems is related to the payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program, meaning the company agrees to pay a set stipend of fees to the county government in exchange for a property tax exemption.
If approved, Kone said by being a part of the PILOT program, Longview would be granted a $200 million property tax and business inventory tax break. In order for this to pass, he said the Board of Education and the county commission will first need to approve it.
Kone said the Sierra Club had its economics policy advisor do the numbers on the plan. He said the club found around 75% of the taxes the plants would normally be required to pay would be exempt.
Nelson said Longview Power plans to take part in the PILOT program, and it will provide $2 million in PILOT payments and taxes in Monongalia County every year.
He said this one of many benefit’s the plant will bring to Monongalia County, including creating thousands of jobs during construction and during the plant’s operation.
“Employee compensation, direct, indirect and induced, will exceed $200 million,” Nelson said in an email. “In full operation, the gas and solar facilities will add approximately 35 new, high skill/high wage jobs with a payroll of around $2 million.”
In response to the protest that will occur on campus, Nelson said Longview Power is committed to producing clean energy.
“Longview is one of the cleanest burning coal-fired electric generation units in the world and our proposed gas facility, once operational, will be as well,” Nelson said. “We are committed to clean fossil and renewable development. We hope folks will take the time to learn more about us.”
Yost said even if the rally has a small turnout, it is important to the environmentalist groups to get the word out about the situation.
“If this still passes, young people need to vote,” Yost said.