SMYTH CO., Va. -

Plans for a natural gas-fired power plant in Smyth County could have a major impact on the local economy, but so far a Maryland developer has been unable to interest Appalachian Power, the utility it says is the most logical customer.

Community leaders want the power plant for the economic impact that could exceed $1 billion over the life of the plant.

Appalachian Power acknowledges the CPV Smyth Energy Center would help the county's economy, but it says ratepayers throughout its Virginia service area would end up footing the bill.

The 108-acre site is just a short drive from exit 50 on Interstate 81. An ideal location, says Competitive Power Ventures, for the 700- megawatt natural gas-fired power plant it wants to build. A 765-kilovolt transmission line crosses the property. And a natural gas pipeline is just a mile and a half away.

Gener Gotiangco is with Competitive Power Ventures, the company that hopes to develop the plant.  "And so it's a good fit in this community, that has great economic impact beyond the land that it consumes," he said Wednesday afternoon.

The potential economic impact is substantial with the cost of construction topping $650 million, and the annual economic impact estimated at more than $60 million over the 20 year life span of the plant.

John Graham is the Clerk of Circuit Court in Smyth County. "This holds great promise for our community in a way that other things have not in the past," Graham told WDBJ7. "And the transformative effect of this one project is why I'm supporting it."

Graham is on board, and so are business owners like Mark Prater, who owns Arnold's Exxon in Atkins.

"And the first two years of construction, you know should put Atkins on the map again," Prater told us. "It should be a booming little town again. And that's what we're hoping for."

CPV is still trying to convince Appalachian Power the project would help the utility with efforts to reduce its dependence on coal.

"And by having a natural gas, highly efficient plant like this," Gotiangco said, "it would mitigate what may become significant cost impacts to Virginia ratepayers from coal generation."

Appalachian Power says it's already diversifying its fuel mix, including the conversion of a Virginia coal plant to natural gas. And the utility says it might not need additional generating capacity in Virginia for 8 - 10 years.

John Shepelwich is an Appalachian Power spokesperson. "Economic development benefits to the county for sure," he said in an interview. "The problem is all of our other customers will have to pay for that, and it will more than likely be above the cost we would normally pay for electricity."

Supporters of the Smyth County project are questioning a proposal from Appalachian and another unit of American Electric Power to purchase capacity of an existing coal-fired plant in West Virginia. Appalachian says the two are unrelated, and the Mitchell plant would serve Wheeling Power customers in West Virginia.

Competitive Power Ventures continues to move forward with the Smyth County project. The company is holding a public meeting in Atkins Thursday night to discuss the air quality permitting process for the proposed facility.