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Clermont officials question Zimmer's tax value in heated meeting over plant closure

Clermont to lose millions when Zimmer plant closes
Vistra Corp's Brad Watson answers questions about Zimmer's closure from Washington Township trustees.
Posted at 5:28 PM, Mar 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-29 19:56:36-04

MOSCOW, Ohio — Officials from small communities in Clermont County had plenty of questions on Tuesday about the impending closure of the William H. Zimmer Power Station. But they didn’t seem to like the answers they got.

Executives from Texas-based Vistra Corp met with community leaders at the Washington Township municipal building to answer questions about Zimmer’s closure on May 31.

The plant has provided millions in tax revenue and steady, well-paying jobs in Clermont County for decades.

“It’s just hard to believe the plant won’t be there, all that it’s done for the community, those jobs, and it’s gone,” said Brad Watson, Vistra’s senior director of community affairs. “The plants when they close, they’ve been operating for decades, it’s like the passing of an old friend.”

Brad Watson, senior director of community affairs for Vistra Corp., talks about Zimmer's closure.
Brad Watson, senior director of community affairs for Vistra Corp., talks about Zimmer's closure.

Vistra plans to repurpose a portion of the Zimmer site for battery storage, Watson said, which will create hundreds of temporary construction jobs and tens of millions in investment.

But Watson acknowledged the project will fall well short of the 150 jobs that Zimmer provided and the millions in tax revenue that built new fire stations and schools, paved roads and replaced household septic tanks with municipally treated water.

Zimmer will be the sixth coal-burning power plant in the region to close since 2013, a trend that’s driven by the increasing cost of complying with air-pollution rules and cheaper energy sources like natural gas.

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William H. Zimmer Power Station (Photo by Google Maps)

Some of Zimmer’s employees will transfer to another Vistra-owned plant – the Miami Fort Generating Station in Hamilton County. But Miami Fort is also scheduled to close by 2027, and it may close sooner.

“There’s a reason why you have two plants in Adams County, then Beckjord, just along the Ohio River, closing. No one is going to buy them. They’re too costly to run,” Watson said.

Duke Energy closed the former Walter C. Beckjord coal plant near New Richmond in 2014 and sold the 1400-acre site to Commercial Liability Partners four years later. CLP is now demolishing the plant.

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Beckjord Generating Station

The New Richmond School District took a big hit on lost tax revenue when Beckjord closed, and is about to take another one with Zimmer’s closure.

“If New Richmond schools is going to have to pay you back $2.5 million dollars, it’s going to devastate that school district,” said Dennis Cooper, chairman of the board of trustees in Washington Township, which gets 30 percent of its revenue from Zimmer.

Not only will Clermont communities, schools, and libraries lose future tax revenue when Zimmer closes, they may be forced to repay back taxes.

Dennis Cooper, chairman of Washington Township Board of Trustees, asks a question about Zimmer closure.
Dennis Cooper, chairman of Washington Township Board of Trustees, asks a question about Zimmer closure.

That’s because Vistra is challenging the county auditor’s $140 million property valuation of the plant and surrounding land, arguing that it is worth 80 percent less – or $28.5 million. A hearing is set before the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals in Columbus on July 26.

If Vistra wins its appeal, some public entities will be forced to repay the more than $4 million in tax revenue they received over the past two years. The village of Moscow, Monroe and Washington townships, New Richmond schools, county libraries, Grant Career Center, and Clermont County could be substantially impacted.

“If I add all these together you’re going to have a payback of $4 million,” Cooper said, during a series of heated exchanges with Watson at the meeting.

Clermont community and New Richmond School District leaders listen at meeting about Zimmer closure.
Clermont community and New Richmond School District leaders listen at meeting about Zimmer closure.

“Our goal is fair value of the plant. As applied by law. And that’s fair for every taxpayer,” Watson said.

Watson couldn’t say how much communities will lose in tax revenue. Vistra is still negotiating with New Richmond Schools over a multiyear tax agreement.

“We will always pay our fair share of taxes and in this case we are willing to pay more than our fair share,” Watson said. “But it has to be realistic to what the market value of that plant is worth.”

The Washington Township trustees had plenty of other questions, such as what would happen to the other land locally that Vistra owns, and if building a solar power facility is a possibility.

While Watson did not have specific answers, he said Vistra has, “not ruled out solar,” but that battery storage on Zimmer was “a higher probability.”

Vistra's senior director of community affairs Brad Watson speaks to Washington Township trustees about closure of Zimmer coal power plant on March 29, 2022.
Vistra's senior director of community affairs Brad Watson speaks to Washington Township trustees about closure of Zimmer coal power plant on March 29, 2022.

Vistra does not currently have plans for its other local properties but will not sell them right away, Watson said. And Zimmer’s landfill will stay open to accept waste from the Miami Fort plant in the short term.

Washington Township officials had hoped Vistra would sell some of its land for housing and farm development, which would bring in new property taxes and help with the loss.

Tax revenue was the most controversial, and most questioned topic at the near 90-minute meeting, with officials insisting the Zimmer plant should have some tax value even after it closed, and Watson saying that it didn’t.

Clermont County residents listen to Vistra Corp. executives talk about closure of Zimmer plant.
Clermont County residents listen to Vistra Corp. executives talk about closure of Zimmer plant.

“The values should be driven by what fair market value is and not what the county taxing authority wants,” Watson said. “If there is a potential buyer out there willing to buy … an old plant that is losing money, we’d love to talk to that buyer.”