YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – We welcome the long-awaited news Nov. 3 that Clean Energy Future has closed on $1.2 billion in financing to build its second natural gas-fueled electricity plant in the Mahoning Valley.
In addition to improving the region’s economic competitiveness by providing electrical capacity needed to attract new industries, the project will generate an estimated 1,000 construction jobs.
It was first announced nearly six years ago, in January 2017. Since then, the project has followed what can be described as an unnecessarily long, twisted and tortured path.
Early on, it was imperiled by a petition to the Ohio Power Siting board that raised safety concerns, then a lawsuit over a land deal. Both were filed by an entity that owned property adjacent to the Lordstown Industrial Park where the Lordstown Energy Center now stands and the Trumbull Energy Center was to be built.
More recently, a dispute that echoed the economic development turf battles that strangled progress decades ago (we thought!) erupted over whether the city of Warren or the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District would supply water to the site. This, too, put the project in jeopardy.
Meanwhile, plans for a third gas-fired power plant here were scuttled following passage of House Bill 6, legislation that provided a ratepayer bailout to FirstEnergy Corp. for its two Ohio nuclear plants. That political deal was at the center of a $60 million bribery scandal involving then-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder.
Meanwhile, as the Trumbull Energy Center investment remained in limbo, costs escalated from what was first expected to be a $900 million project, similar to the cost to build the Lordstown Energy Center. Today, given that both skilled labor and construction materials are at a premium, the now $1.2 billion project could face further cost escalations.
While there are additional bureaucratic hurdles to be overcome, including approval of the site plan by the Lordstown Village Planning Commission, Mayor Arno Hill says he’s confident those details will be completed in the next month or so, and site work could start in a couple of weeks.
Hopefully, no new political disputes will emerge.
The coming together of the political, business and labor communities in recent years – evidenced a quarter-century ago with combined efforts to secure a new product for the former GM Lordstown plant – has become a point of pride and sign of progress. The water dispute, although correctly resolved in the city of Warren’s favor, was an unfortunate reminder that some still put their interests above those of the broader community, regardless of the harm they would cause.
Clearly the work to bring Mahoning Valley communities together to more broadly collaborate is unfinished. We must all work to ensure that effort continues. Too much depends on it.