Voinovich, who is the main sponsor in the Senate for re-authorization of the Appalachian Regional Commission, said the “best brains” at the state and federal levels of government and in the energy industry should develop a plan to address the nation's changing energy needs while improving the economy of the Appalachian region.
Voinovich hosted a roundtable discussion at the Meigs County Economic Development Office, which included Meigs County Commissioners Mick Davenport and Jim Sheets, Development Director Perry Varnadoe, ARC Federal Co-chairman Ann Pope, Fred Deel, Director of the Governor's Office of Appalachia, Governor Ted Strickland's energy advisor, and representatives of American Municipal Power-Ohio and American Electric Power, which have proposed construction of clean-coal power plants in southern Meigs County.
In proposing the plan's development, Voinovich said it would allow the local community and companies interested in developing energy facilities in the region to better access support for infrastructure and worker training. Pope committed funding for development of the plan through the ARC.
“The ARC is interested in energy in particular in terms of economic development,” Pope said. “We would like Appalachia to play a large role in emerging energy technology.”
The AEP proposal to build an Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle plant in Lebanon Township and AMP-Ohio's proposed ammonia scrubber project are examples of those emerging technologies, but both companies have encountered infrastructure issues, including a lack of roads, water and sewerage and broadband services needed for their plants. The companies also anticipate some issues with finding enough qualified workers, not only to build the plants, but to operate and manage them once they are constructed.
Hocking College now offers a program to train power plant personnel, but an IGCC plant like that proposed for the Great Bend area will also use those trained in the chemical industry. Hocking and the Voinovich Center at Ohio University will likely participate in the strategic planning process Voinovich proposed.
“We would like to help develop building blocks so this region is a natural choice for energy providers to locate here and create an energy hub in Appalachia,” Pope said.
The strategic planning process, Voinovich said, would involve the “best brains” in helping to secure state and federal funding to answer those infrastructure and staffing needs.
Voinovich's visit to Pomeroy was one of three Friday on an annual tour of Appalachian Ohio. He also visited Ohio University and Hocking College in Athens County.
His visit was set to promote legislation reauthorizing the Appalachian Regional Commission at $510.9 million over five years. His proposed legislation creates the designation of economically “at-risk” counties and provides an appropriate federal matching rate for ARC-funded projects in those counties.
The bill also creates an Economic and Energy Development Initiative for the region, encouraging the ARC to provide technical assistance and grants to promote energy efficiency, increase the use of renewable energy resources and enhance economic competitiveness in the region.