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SALEM Sale in future of company that plans to build plant



Published: Wed, May 1, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The deal is subject to federal regulations and is expected to take several months to close.

By NORMAN LEIGH

VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU

SALEM -- Plans to build a $600 million power plant in Columbiana County still appear to be on track, even though the company that proposed the project is being sold.

Cogentrix Energy Inc. of Charlotte, N.C., is being bought for $415 million by Aquila Inc., a Kansas City, Mo.-based energy company.

The sale was publicized Tuesday. Since the transaction is subject to federal regulations and review, it's expected to take about four months to close the deal, said Jef Freeman, a Cogentrix spokesman.

"Our intent would be to move forward with it," Al Butkus, vice president of corporate communications for Aquila, said of the future of the Columbiana County project originally proposed by Cogentrix in late 2000.

Butkus added, however, that although it's likely Aquila will build the proposed electric generation plant, the project is not 100 percent certain.

"I can't give you that," Butkus said of a positive assurance.

Butkus noted that Aquila became interested in putting a plant in Columbiana County not long after Cogentrix began exploring that same possibility.

Aquila later abandoned its plans because "Cogentrix was already there," Butkus said.

Plans under review

Cogentrix's intent to build a plant at a primary site off St. Jacob-Logtown Road in Center Township or at an alternative site of state Route 45 in Salem Township is being reviewed for approval by the Ohio Power Siting Board.

The panel is expected to make a decision sometime this month.

Cogentrix's progress in the regulatory process will be inherited by Aquila, Butkus said.

"They're every bit as good as Cogentrix," county Commissioner Dave Cranmer said of Aquila.

Cranmer said he thinks Aquila will go ahead with the Columbiana County project, based on its previous interest in the county.

"My presumption is that the deal will go forward, but we'll wait and see," said Tracy Drake, Columbiana County Port Authority director.

Drake is among the county officials who support building the plant in the county.

He said he wasn't shocked by Cogentrix's being sold. "Consolidation of the marketplace is just a fact of life," Drake said.

About the company

Aquila says it is one of the largest wholesalers of electricity and natural gas in North America.

The company has assets of $11.9 billion.

Cogentrix had planned to begin construction later this year on a natural gas-fired plant.

About 300 construction jobs were to be provided during the nearly two years it would take to build the facility.

Once completed, the plant was expected to employ about 30 people full time.




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