Technicality

Technicality

West Virginia Supreme Court members have struck a blow against the “technicalities” in pursuit of justice that so often annoy the public, simply because they seem to go against common sense.

Construction of a natural gas-fired power plant in Brooke County has been delayed by a lawsuit filed by the Ohio Valley Jobs Alliance and several individuals. It was pursued after the state Public Service Commission issued a siting certificate for the plant — on Feb. 20.

Energy Solutions Consortium plans to construct the generating station on about 20 acres of land in the Cross Creek Wildlife Management Area. The land is being leased from the state.

Once in operation, the plant will have an annual economic impact of about $440.5 million, ESC estimates. It will provide hundreds of construction jobs, along with about 30 full-time and part-time ones for operation.

A complex financing system involving a Payment In Lieu of Taxes — or PILOT — deal is involved. Brooke County commissioners agreed to exempt the plant from normal property taxes for 30 years. In exchange, ESC will make annual payments of $433,000 to the commission and $167,000 to the Brooke County Board of Education. A $1 million up-front payment to the commission also is part of the deal.

Clearly, construction of the plant will boost both the local economy and local government in Brooke County.

Again, work had been blocked by the consortium’s lawsuit, however.

Last week, high court justices ruled against the consortium, upholding the PSC.

In a written opinion, the court found “the substantial and uncontroverted weight of the evidence” favored the PSC granting the siting permit. That opinion also addressed a specific complaint by the consortium, that ESC had not submitted “a hypothetical tax estimate” as part of its application to the PSC.

Therein lay the technicality. And the court recognized it as such. Justices noted that indeed, the estimate should have been included — but that the lapse was not a reason to reject the PSC’s siting decision.

Good. The PSC had an assortment of financial information to consider — more than ample to make a decision on the siting application. Holding the project up because of a relatively minor error would have been ridiculous. Justices were right to recognize that.

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