Longanacre explains opposition to Form Energy plant; proposes partisan school board elections

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – After Friday’s contentious House debate over the proposed $300 million incentive package intended to attract a green energy manufacturer to West Virginia, Del. Todd Longanacre, R-Greenbrier, sat down with The RealWV to discuss the proposal, as well as several other pieces of potential legislation. 

“It was a long day and a passionate debate, and I understand why,” Longanacre began. “We’re a supermajority, but we have 88 different personalities and 88 different ideas of how things should be done. All 88 of us – all 100 of us for that matter (members of the House of Delegates) – want economic development in West Virginia.”

The debate surrounded HB 2882 – a supplemental appropriations bill that would initially release $105 million to the W.Va. Department of Economic Development (DED) to finance the construction of Form Energy’s “reversible rusting” battery plant in Weirton. Construction is expected to begin before the end of 2023, with the state’s total investment being just over $290 million.

“I hope I’m wrong about this, I hope it produces jobs,” Longanacre said. “But to give hundreds of millions of dollars to an out-of-state company – if it had been a different kind of company with a different kind of product that’s proven, maybe then it would have made sense.”

“Instead of giving one company $290 million to come here, if we were to divide that between counties, we could have given each county $5.3 million for economic development,” Longanacre noted. “That could have potentially created 10,000 jobs across West Virginia. So yes, I have a problem with this one.”

According to Longanacre, using public funds to support more proven companies such as Nucor and Toyota would have been a much safer investment, adding, “These are proven products that we know work.”

“For us to roll the dice with $300 million – taking money from coal and gas, by the way – to prop up a private company that will not be paying business taxes into the state coffers, is a high-risk investment,” Longanacre said. “Taking rust and building a battery big enough to power the City of Charleston if the electric goes out is essentially what they’re telling us this technology will do, but they haven’t shown it to be done anywhere in the world.”

“It’s a risky investment,” Longanacre added. “I have no problem with green energy, I just don’t want to use public money to fund it. I want to see it be able to stand on its own.”

Longanacre responds to questions during a December town hall event in Asbury. Also pictured is Del. Mike Honaker, R-Greenbrier. Photo by Matthew Young.

Longanacre also spoke about two education-related bills which he has introduced this session: HB 3037, which seeks to establish partisan elections for school board positions, and HB 2579, which would transition the position of county superintendent into a non-partisan elected office. 

“A school district superintendent is pretty much – not in all counties but in some – a ‘good ol’ boy’ system,” Longanacre said regarding the motivation behind HB 2579. “Once they’re in there, there’s no term limits or requirement for them to specifically answer to the parents.”

While Longanacre praised Greenbrier County School Superintendent Jeff Bryant for “doing things that are positive for the school district,” he noted, “we’ve seen other counties where that’s not so.” 

“I’m not calling for the superintendent to become an elected position that is partisan, where we have to know what party affiliation they have,” Longanacre explained. “What I’m calling for is that it’s a position that lasts six years and then you’re up for reelection. Every six years they have to come back to the parents and guardians of these kids and ask, ‘Do you still want me?’”

Regarding HB 3037, Longanacre said, “As far as the elected board of education, I think because of the nature of what the school board does, I would like to see – and many of my constituents would like to see – the board of education have to identify if they are Republicans or Independents or Democrats.”

“That way, parents will have a basic understanding of their political philosophies and what will drive their decisions as a board member,” Longanacre added. “So the county superintendent would be non-partisan. But that partisan election of the five-member school boards across the state – there’s a lot of support for that.”

At present, HB 2579 is pending before the House Education Committee, while HB 3037 is pending before House Judiciary. It remains to be seen if either committee will choose to take up Longanacre’s proposed legislation. 

The RealWV will provide updates regarding the status of HB 2882, HB 2579, and HB 3037 as additional information is made available. 

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