Middletown power plant project called a “game-changer” for region

NTE Energy LLC of St. Augustine, Fla., publicly announced in January of this year plans to build a power plant in Middletown that burns natural gas to generate electricity. The company must still obtain necessary government permits and certifications, and a pair of public hearings held this week in Middletown is another hurdle crossed in the process.

If everything moves forward, plans are to start construction midway through 2015 and open in 2018, producing more than 500 megawatts of electric power year-round.

The power plant could be built near the intersection of Cincinnati-Dayton and Oxford State roads.

At the public hearings held Monday and Tuesday at Middletown City Council Chambers, supporters spoke out in favor of the project. No criticism was expressed.

“It’s certainly going to be a game changer I think for Middletown and really the surrounding region,” said Middletown Mayor Larry Mulligan Jr., also the Butler-Warren market president for First Financial Bank, at Monday’s meeting. That hearing was organized by Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and its local monitoring arm Southwest Ohio Air Quality Agency.

“With so many coal-fired plants that are coming offline the next six to 10 year period, having new sources of clean energy are going to be vitally important to our region and really the economy and the manufacturing base that we have here,” Mulligan said.

Additionally, the capital investment and the 300 to 400 construction jobs that the project is expected to create will provide the city a large, one-time influx of cash to spend on improving roads and other infrastructure, City Manager Doug Adkins said in testimony provided Tuesday. The second hearing was organized by Ohio Power Siting Board.

“We are now in a place where we are ready to move forward coming out of recession, and we’re poised for growth. We sit on a major interstate. We have a great location between Dayton and Cincinnati, which is continuing to grow towards us from both sides,” Adkins said. “We have rail access, we have our own operating airport.”

“Our hope is to take the benefits of this project, which will be a one-time large influx of income tax dollars for the city, pool it with the fact that our schools are now in the process of developing two to three new schools, which will expand again our source of one-time revenues, and use that strategically with our new plans to develop infrastructure,” he said.

The proposed Middletown Energy Center, as the project is called, is the biggest development project in Middletown since the approximately $400 million SunCoke Energy coke plant was built on Yankee Road to supply AK Steel Holding Corp. SunCoke Energy Middletown opened at the end of 2011.

NTE Energy expects to sell the facility’s output to wholesale, regional power suppliers, spokeswoman Danielle Milman said.

“Improving the available energy supply of our businesses and residents will create a long-term benefit for the local economy,” said Denise Hamet, Middletown’s economic development director.

“Interruptions in power supply can cause critical work stoppages for businesses, so anything that increases the supply of power, enhances the reliability of energy for businesses,” she said.

The proposed site where the power plant would be built is located strategically in an area — along the Cincinnati-Dayton Road corridor — that local nonprofit development group Middletown Moving Forward wants to help develop, said Ken Cohen, the group’s president.

“It’s perfect because of the access to railroad, access to gas and it’s really on the perimeter of the heavy industry area of Middletown,” said Cohen, also president of Middletown-based metal recycling company Cohen and a member of the board of The Chamber of Commerce Serving Middletown, Monroe and Trenton.

“As far as the community is concerned, Middletown is making a lot of headway. Morale in the community is moving up,” Cohen said.

Ohio EPA has released a draft air permit for the project. The draft is open to public comments through Monday, Nov. 3. Written comments can be mailed to: Kurt Smith, Southwest Ohio Air Quality Agency, 250 William Howard Taft Rd., Cincinnati, OH 45219.

The application, draft permit and other related materials are available for review at local arm of the EPA by calling 513-946-7759.

The air permit regulates emissions from the facility such as particulates (ash and dust), carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxide and greenhouse gases, said Dina Pierce, spokeswoman for Ohio EPA.

NTE Energy is also seeking certification from Ohio Power Siting Board, which examined the environmental impact and public need for the new power plant.

Ohio Power Siting Board staff has recommended the project be certified, and the government agency’s board members will issue a decision at an upcoming meeting. However, no date has been set for the board to make its decision, said siting board spokesman Matt Butler.

In the meantime, written comments can be mailed to: Ohio Power Siting Board, 180 E. Broad St., Columbus, Ohio 43215. Include the case number 14-0534-EL-BGN in the letter’s subject line.

While construction of the new power plant will create 300 to 400 jobs, once open in 2018, 25 to 30 permanent operator and maintenance technician jobs will be created, according to NTE Energy.

“The state of Ohio needs a lot more projects of this nature,” said Chris Webster, business agent for Plumbers, Pipefitters and Mechanical Equipment Service Local 392 of Cincinnati. The union represents more than 2,300 members, of which a large portion lives in Butler County, Webster said.

“The more coal-fired plants that go offline, the more plants we need like this,” to prevent manufacturers from looking elsewhere to meet their energy needs, Webster said.