LISBON - In the fall of 2011, Planck Investments acquired controlling interest in the former Baard Energy project, with the stated intention of moving forward with development of a multi-billion dollar synthetic fuel plant.
More than 18 months later, not much has been heard from the company on the status of those efforts, which means not much has changed since Baard first announced in 2006 it intended to build a $6 billion plant outside Wellsville that would convert coal into synthetic diesel and jet fuel.
The project ran into a number of obstacles, the most significant being the lack of investors. Planck entered the picture in 2010, pledging money to help complete the property acquisition. By the following October, after acquiring controlling interest in the project, Planck announced natural gas would replace coal as the feedstock used to produce synthetic fuels and formed a new company for the project, Pallas Formed Fuels. And that was the last anyone heard it.
"There's nothing going on," said Columbiana County Port Authority Chief Executive Office Tracy Drake, who was instrumental in securing the options to purchase the property for the project.
Stephan Dopuch, vice president of development for Baard who now serves in the same capacity for Pallas, could not be reached for comment.
Planck/Pallas has acquired about 400 acres in Yellow Creek Township, although Drake said the company has yet to fully reimburse the port authority for the money it spent in helping acquiring three of the 17 properties.
"The site is under their control and they're still working with the port authority about the money the port authority put into it," he said.
In exchange for agreeing in 2011 to switch from coal to natural gas, two environmental activist groups agreed to drop their appeals challenging permits issued for the original Baard project by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Mike Settles of the OEPA said the permits were transferred to Pallas but the company let the air permit expire in March. "So at this point, if they want to build the facility they would have to apply for and obtain a new air permit," he said.
The project's state wastewater discharge permit expires Aug. 31, and the company has yet to apply for its renewal. The Corps of Engineers and OEPA issued wetlands/stream impact permits for the project, and those expire Dec. 31.
As part of the settlement agreement with the environmental groups, Pallas must file annual status reports with the Environmental Review Appeals Commission, an independent state agency that reviews appeals of OEPA decisions.
The most recent status report was filed May 6, and the attorneys for Pallas indicated the company "continues to work on remaining preconditions to being able to finalize all issues for a permit modification, including working diligently to select the exact natural gas conversion technology for the facility and working to finalize whether to self produce or purchase oxygen feedstock and to establish the logistics of supply of natural gas for the facility ...," they wrote.