Clean Energy Makes Its Case to Lordstown Residents

LORDSTOWN, Ohio -- About an hour into an informational meeting where residents of this village heard a laundry list of benefits promised should an $800 million power plant be built here, an unidentified man wearing shorts and a baseball cap rose and spoke out of turn.

"Sir? Let me say this," he began, interrupting the woman holding the floor.

"I've lived in Lordstown for 35 years. I live practically across the street from [the proposed site of the project]," he continued, now holding the full attention of the audience.   

"This is an excellent idea. I live with those apartments over there and that sucks." The audience erupted in laughter, forcing the man to raise his voice to be heard.   

"But that there is good," he continued as he pointed to the plans under debate for the plant. "It's a win-win-win thing. I don't see any questions here. It's just a great idea and I'm rolling with it, man."

The audience of about 50 decided they had found their champion and broke into applause that grew louder as the man in the baseball cap made his way to the exit, turned, bowed and walked away.

"I'm not an entertainer and I don't do this for applause," said Bill Siderewicz, speaking later of the scene at Lordstown High School. Siderewicz, the president of Clean Energy Future LLC, had been listening attentively to residents when the interruption occurred.

"When that does happen, it catches you by surprise," he said afterward.

Last week Clean Energy Future, based in Manchester, Mass., announced it had optioned 57 acres from a landowner in Lordstown and is planning to build a natural-gas-fueled power plant on Salt Springs Road. If all goes as the company hopes, construction would begin by the end of next year and be up and running by fall 2018.

The company must first obtain a zoning change to industrial from business/residential for the Salt Springs site. The site lies among several high-voltage power lines that Siderewicz says make it an ideal location for the plant and unappealing to potential homebuilders.

"We're one of the few entities in the village that find the location attractive,” Siderewicz related. “Most people, if given the choice of whether or not to live next to power lines, choose not to."

Once completed, the plant would burn natural gas to produce enough electricity to power 500,000 households, Clean Energy Future says.

Siderewicz says the demand for plants of this type is increasing as more coal-fired plants are being taken offline or converted to burning natural gas.

"The pressure on them has been so strong that they can't afford the kind of cleanup costs associated with the plant,” he said. “So the alternative is to shut that plant down. The power has to come from somewhere."

Clean Energy Future estimates the plant would take up about 14 acres of the 57-acre site. One concern raised by the audience was how the other 43 acres would be used.

"Our intentions are to keep it the way it is," Siderewicz responded, assuring the audience his company would retain sole ownership and devote those 43 acres to green space.

"One of the things he said that made me feel good was that they're going to keep the 57 acres," said Jim London, a resident. "That's important to me."

Roberta Hiller, president of the Lordstown Board of Education, said the importance of the project as it relates to Lordstown schools can't be overstated. "Right now Lordstown school is in a deficit mode,” she said. “We'll [the school board] probably be getting another letter from the state."

Hiller reminded the audience of the school levy that failed last November and of the many needs the school has. "We could get the pool back," she said. "How many in the community would love to come and swim in that pool like we used to?"

A dozen raised their hands.

In addition to more revenue for the school system, Siderewicz estimated the plant would also generate tax revenues of more than $100 million over the life of the project.

The plant would also create about 550 construction jobs and 25 to 30 permanent jobs, the latter to generate a payroll in excess of $3 million a year.

Siderewicz was quick to remind his listeners that a zoning change is only the first in a series of steps needed for the project to move forward -- including applying to the Ohio Power Siting Board, getting approval from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and receiving a building permit from the village of Lordstown.

The importance of public opinion isn't lost on the executive. "The city officials, as you can imagine, are in touch with the citizens because they have to get elected next time around. They have a strong incentive to be good listeners," he said.

Siderewicz finds overall sentiment in the community is "very positive" and he's relying on the case he made to tip the scales in favor of his company. "I think once an informed person sees the positive and negative balance, they'll come to the right conclusion," he offered.

Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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