Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Opinion

December 1, 2013

Steady progesss

Odds of South Shore getting coke plant keep improving

ASHLAND — While nothing is a sure thing until actual construction begins, prospects of SunCoke Energy building a  new coke plant in South Shore are looking better and better all the time. In fact, it has almost reached the point it is no longer a question of if the plant will be built, but when.

 John Essman, general manager of SunCoke’s plant in Haverhill, Ohio, about 15 miles upriver from the site of the proposed coke plant, told members of the Ashland Rotary Club two weeks ago SunCoke has advanced engineering drawings of the proposed new plant and is in the process of securing environmental permits to locate the facility there. In other words, the company already is investing heavily in the proposed plant.

The South Shore plant has been under discussion for more than six years with company officials regularly meeting with state and local officials. However, the modern coke plant in Haverhill was in the talking stage for at least that long — if not longer — before construction actually began. Once the coke plant became a reality, most area residents soon became convinced it was well worth the wait.

Last July, Greenup County Fiscal Court members unanimously approved offering an incentives package to SunCoke to locate in South Shore. The 248-acre potential site for the project is along the Ohio River, two miles east of South Shore between Johnson Lane and Ky. 2538, as documents from engineering and American Electric Power studies available to the public have shown.

Essman said a potential South Shore plant would be “generally the size, maybe a little smaller than what we have at Haverhill,” he said, referring to the plant in Franklin Furnace, Ohio. That facility has 200 ovens. “It is actively in the permitting process in Kentucky and with the EPA,” said Essman, adding, “These things take a lot of time.”

According to the Kentucky Division of Air Quality, SunCoke has applied for a Title 5 permit from the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. If granted, it will allow for construction and operation of the coke over battery.

Global engineering giant Jacob’s Engineering said Essman is designing the plant. “I would say it is almost in the final stages of design engineering, pending obviously the permitting process and environmental regulations,” said Essman.

“I am certainly excited about the potential there. It is a great thing for our region,” he said.

As soon as the SunCoke plant opened in Haverhill, we knew the AK Steel Coke  Plant in Ashland was doomed. The Ashland plant, which closed three years ago after 92 years of operation, was an old, “dirty” operation that polluted the air in this city for decades. On the other hand, hundreds drive by the coke plant in Haverhill without even knowing it is there. We could never support the construction of another coke plant like the closed one in  Ashland, but a plant like the one in Haverhill would be greeted with open arms.

The South Shore project is reportedly a $600 million project and would create dozens of new permanent jobs as well as hundreds of temporary construction jobs while the plant is built. In a 2011 Securities and Exchange Commission filing, SunCoke stated the plant could produce up to 1.1 million tons of coke at a potential South Shore facility.

SunCoke, which split from its parent company Sunoco Inc. and went public in 2012, has been expanding its footprint in the region over the last several years. In addition to the construction of the Haverhill plant, SunCoke opened a new 100-oven facility in Middletown, Ohio, in October 2012, which serves AK Steel. SunCoke, Essman said, has a capacity of more than 5.8 million tons of coke annually, a two-fold increase since 2006, thanks to four new plants. SunCoke also has opened new facilities in St. Louis and in Brazil in recent years.

Essman said the advanced age of many coking facilities in the U.S., along with more stringent environmental regulations, low cost of natural gas and the generation of power from heat-capturing technology, have afforded SunCoke the opportunity and incentive to invest in new coking plants.

While older coke plants like the one in Ashland are closing because they can no longer be competitive with newer coke plants, companies like SunCoke are eager to fill the void by building modern plants. Our hope is that SunCoke will continue  to expand and will make northeastern Kentucky and southern Ohio an important part of its future.

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