Economic Development

Community, Trades to Benefit from $1.3B South Field Plant

WELLSVILLE, Ohio – More than 30 operating engineers and other tradesmen are busy hauling, grading and preparing a 150-acre tract of land to accommodate one of the largest single construction projects this region of Ohio has ever seen.

It’s among the largest single investments, too. At $1.3 billion, South Field Energy is now well on the way to developing a modern, technologically sophisticated combined-cycle electrical generation plant that is capable of powering more than one million homes. 

“It’s a very welcoming community,” said Tom Spang, CEO of Advanced Power, the parent of South Field. “It’s also a community that could use an investment like this. We’re very proud to be here.”

Spang said the enormous repository of natural gas across Appalachia in the Utica and Marcellus shale plays helped convince the company that the Wellsville area provided an ideal location for the plant. 

“We felt that the amount of natural gas in Ohio and Pennsylvania that it would be important to build new gas-fueled power plants here,” he said. “It’s better for the environment and great for the communities.”

This is the second power plant Advanced Power has developed in Ohio. Last year, the company kicked off operations at its Carroll County Energy Center in Carrollton, a similar, but slightly smaller plant compared to South Field, he said. 

“This will be one of our largest,” Spang said. 

About 100 Advanced Power executives, elected officials, investors, guests, labor representatives, and community leaders joined Spang at a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday afternoon to celebrate construction of the new facility.

South Field Energy
The 150-acre site is being prepared for construction.

Carlton Ingram, business agent for Operating Engineers Local 66, said this project expects to have more than 1,000 tradesmen at the site during the peak construction period. 

“This is going to be fantastic for us and the whole building trades,” Ingram said. “You figure between us, the pipefitters, electricians, laborers – it gives us a new bite at the apple.”

He said that for so many years, the construction trades had suffered as the region shed jobs in the steel industry. Now, major projects such as South Field and others related to the natural-gas industry have rejuvenated all building trades.

“This industry is going to be here,” Ingram said. “This isn’t just a one and done. This is big.”

South Field is constructing a low-carbon, combined-cycle natural gas electric generating plant that is able to produce 1,182 megawatts, enough power to accommodate more than one million homes.

The plant will use advanced natural gas-fueled turbines developed by GE to generate electricity. It is also designed to generate electricity through steam turbines, operated by heat captured from the natural gas turbines.

Although 150 acres are being prepared, the plant will have a fairly small footprint and could operate on just 20 acres. It is expected to be operational by the summer of 2021 and employ 25 full-time once completed.

John Coleman, project director for South Field, said the commercial management would largely be done through Advanced Power’s Boston office, but managers and field technicians need to be on site to keep the plant operational.

“It’s a lot of teamwork,” he said. “There’s the gas that needs to be dispatched to the plant, there’s the electricity sold over the grid.”

Coleman noted that as aging coal plants retire, it opens up the potential for new, more efficient plants to move into the market such as South Field.  “We think there’s a lot of opportunity still out there.  We have another team looking at those opportunities on a go-forward basis.”

The site proved ideal for several reasons, added Collin Brown, manager for development at Advanced Power. 

“Wellsville brought a lot of things to the table, including community and county support, as well as existing infrastructure such as gas pipelines, electric interconnection and the Buckeye Water facility,” he said.

Moreover, Wellsville and nearby communities stand to benefit greatly from the project – especially the local school district, which has experienced its share of cutbacks over the last several decades.

“We were able to get this project in under an enterprise zone agreement, which gives South Field a little tax incentive but also opens up some funding for the school board, the village, and Yellow Creek Township,” said Tim Weigle, Columbiana County commissioner.  “It’s pretty exciting – we hope it will bring other businesses in.”

Wellsville School District Superintendent Richard Bereschik said that South Field’s project helps reverse the negative trend that was impacting teachers and students throughout the community.

“When I started here, we had about 1,200 students,” he said. “We’ve decreased by about 40%. It looked like a dismal future for us.”

Then four years ago, Bereschik received a call from Tracy Drake, then the executive director of the Columbiana County Port Authority.  He suggested a meeting between the district and representatives of Advanced Power. Yet the superintendent was still apprehensive since so many other plans for industrial development had fallen through over the years.

“I didn’t have my hopes set real high,” he admitted. After several months, though, he was convinced that the company meant business. “We had a partnership and a friendship with South Field Energy.”

Under an agreement with the school district, South Field has paid $1.7 million to the schools during the construction phase. Once the plant is operational, the company will compensate the school district $1.3 million annually for 15 years. 

This influx of funds has reinvigorated an arts program in the Wellsville elementary school. It’s also allowed the district to hire a new music teacher, a full-time psychologist and potentially a full-time curriculum specialist that focuses on gifted programs.

“By the end of next school year, we will have updated our curriculum, K-12, and that’s something we haven’t been able to do for about 10 years,” Bereschik said. The schools have also upgraded technology throughout the buildings. 

Other plans are to build a new football field with synthetic turf with a new track, he said.  

“This is a great partnership and we hope it goes on for a long time,” Bereschik remarked. “If I could sum up what South Field Energy has done for us it’s two words: promise and sustainability.”

Pictured: Breaking ground on South Field Energy Wednesday were Tom Spang, CEO, Advanced Power; Michael Ryan, president, Buckeye Water District; Mike Halleck, Columbiana County commissioner; Rich Bereschik, Superintendent, Wellsville Local Schools; Sarah Keeler, District Director, U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson’s Office; John Coleman, project director, Advanced Power; Collin Brown, manager of development, Advanced Power.

Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.