Coal Plant Won’t Pay Its Rent, but Can Pay Joe Manchin

Coal Plant Won’t Pay Its Rent, but Can Pay Joe Manchin

One of Senator Joe Manchin’s biggest financial windfalls is also late on rent — very late.

E&E News reported this week that West Virginia’s Grant Town Power Plant, which is a major customer of Manchin’s coal waste business Enersystems, hasn’t paid rent in 10 years, as part of a drawn-out legal battle with its landlord that reached the West Virginia Supreme Court this month. That hasn’t stopped the plant from generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit for Manchin in recent years. Funny how that works!

The situation between Grant Town’s owner, American Bituminous Power Partners LP (cutely referred to as “Ambit”), and its landlord is complicated, to say the least. The plant is on the site of an old coal mine in West Virginia, owned by a company called Horizon Ventures. Ambit and Horizon signed a hefty, complex lease nearly three decades ago. Part of the payment they worked out for the plant’s rent was based on how much on-site fuel it uses: Ambit would pay more in rent to Horizon the more on-site fuel it used for power.

Ambit, however, has been powering the Grant Town plant primarily with off-site coal waste (called, hilariously, “gob”) that it buys from Manchin’s company, Enersystems. That’s led to a dispute with Horizon over how much rent the Grant Town plant actually owes; Horizon sued in 2013, and the suit has dragged on since then. The court has ordered rent payments stopped as the suit proceeds, an Ambit official told E&E — meaning that the Grant Town plant hasn’t paid rent for nearly a decade. Must be nice to be a coal waste-fired power plant.

Even though it’s doing the power plant equivalent of squatting and saving a pretty penny on rent, Grant Town, its owners have said, is in deep financial trouble. Burning gob, the stuff it buys from Manchin’s Enersystems, is not cheap. Gob, which is a much dirtier source of fuel than coal, is also more expensive thanks to additional labour and disposal costs. The Grant Town plant said in 2017 that it barely had enough money to stay open and pay staff, and couldn’t afford upgrades to its systems or even to close down completely. (In the latest hearing before the West Virginia Supreme Court, E&E reported, an Ambit attorney claimed “senior debt” was preventing the company from paying rent — even though all bonds were paid off in 2020.)

The plant has also requested multiple rate hikes to keep its doors open; according to public records seen by E&E, customers in West Virginia have paid more than $US100 ($139) million over the past few years to keep the plant open. The plant is so desperate for a new financial revenue stream that it tried to pivot to powering cryptocurrency mining operations last year; the proposal was shot down by West Virginia regulators in January. (Even with all these multiple rate hikes and harebrained money schemes, Grant Town’s president reportedly told the Public Service Commission last year that the “business is in solid condition.” OK!)

The plant’s financial struggles aren’t holding back Manchin’s finances — to the contrary, Grant Town has been a big earner for the West Virginia senator. Grant Town has been Enersystems’s one and only customer since 2008. Since Manchin was elected, he and his wife have made $US5 ($7) million off the plant, including nearly $US500,000 ($694,100) in 2020 alone.

I’m sure that keeping coal-fired facilities like Grant Town open and paying money into a company that lines his pockets has nothing to do with Manchin working to singlehandedly derail climate legislation.

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