POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — “I think it is a game changer…it creates interest, creates enthusiasm and creates hope for young people to get a job and have opportunities, and for people to return,” Mason County Development Authority Director John Musgrave said on Friday, when discussing the construction permit approval for the coal to liquids plant proposed for north of Point Pleasant.
As reported, on Thursday, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection approved the minor source air quality permit, which allows construction to move forward. Had that permit been denied, the project likely would not have continued, at least not in Mason County, according to Kevin Whited from DS Fuels, lead developer on the $1.2 billion project.
Musgrave and Whited sat down with Ohio Valley Publishing Friday afternoon, shortly after news broke that the permit had been approved.
Whited said the next “big step” in the process to bring the plant into reality, is site preparation work, as well as engineering and procuring pricing of materials from various in-state vendors – some of which are already underway. DS Fuels is looking at a ceremonial groundbreaking near the end of October, possibly the beginning of November, depending on weather. There is a tentative estimate that actual dirt could turn at the site for construction in Spring 2020, with that construction lasting 24-28 months.
Whited said financing for the project is in place. When asked if the company was receiving any tax incentives, Whited said DS Fuels is getting the “standard incentive” offered by the state but no incentives from the county. The state incentives are often offered to attract new business, Musgrave said.
Musgrave added, Whited told him in the beginning he wasn’t looking for anything from the county or development authority.
“The Mason County taxpayers aren’t losing anything, in fact, this will enhance the taxbase, not detract from it,” Musgrave said.
The plant will eventually employ 130 people, as well as around 130 at a coal mining operation in Kanawha County, W.Va., to support the project which is “vertically integrated.” Musgrave explained, “It means, the company will own their own supply source, purchasing a mine that’s going to produce the coal, they’ve got a 10-year coal reserve.”
The plant will use coal and natural gas to create fuel.
“We’re not burning the coal so we don’t produce any coal ash we have to dispose of,” Whited said. “This is a fuel processing plant not a power plant.”
Musgrave explained once the coal is unloaded at the plant, it will go into an enclosure where it is ground up, then from there it goes through the manufacturing process in an enclosed system.
“So there’s not any discharge there,” Musgrave said, adding products from the process do not end up in a landfill and can be resold as “value added products.”
Those include commercial grade sulfur, ammonia that is refrigerant grade and a flake residue often used by coal-fired power plants and concrete companies. The manufactured products from the plant are ultra-low-sulfur diesel, jet fuel and gasoline.
Though the company can truck in coal from the mine in Kanawha County, the preferred mode of transportation is barge via the river, as the mine has a facility along the Kanawha River and DS Fuels plans to place a docking station on part of its 3/4-mile of river frontage. The possibility of using trains for coal transport is also an option because railway runs along the property.
“That’s the beauty of this site, it has all the transportation features,” Musgrave said.
Whited stressed the plant does not discharge into the Ohio River and nothing from the production side of the project goes to the landfill.
The plant will sit on 200 acres in the Mason County Industrial Park north of Point Pleasant along W.Va. 62, it will sit in an area behind Grace Baptist Church, and faces the Kyger Creek Power Plant which sits across the river in Gallia County, Ohio, along Ohio 7.
Musgrave said he and Whited began working on the project in April 2016. Whited explained, when he heard the permit was approved on Thursday, he felt “a lot of gratitude” and thanked those in the community who showed their support at a recent DEP public hearing on the air quality permit.
“It (the plant), will be a game changer,” Whited said. “It’s a major investment and we talked about the use of natural gas and coal as two very important assets of West Virginia, but (also) it’s the people, that’s where education comes in…we need to make sure we are actively creating a quality workforce, not just for us but as John (Musgrave) alluded to, anytime there’s activity in the marketplace it generates more activity.”
Whited and DS Fuels plan to partner with the development authority and Mason County Schools to assist in any workforce development efforts. The expectation is, that this development will spur more interest in terms of economic development in Mason County.
Musgrave remarked on the potential for downstream jobs (those triggered by the development) with DS Fuels estimating thousands will be created though an impact study on that very subject is currently being done by West Virginia University for a closer look at the numbers.
With the news of the permit approval, the DS Fuels website has been receiving a lot of traffic, including resumes. The company is creating a database with those resumes but doesn’t anticipate posting for jobs until early next year, with the initial postings being for management and team leaders. Go to DS Fuels website for more information and to sign up for updates at https://dsfuels.com/default.aspx
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.