Over the years the electric utility industry here in West Virginia has repeatedly asked the coal industry to weigh in and join them in matters of economics, environmental policy and encroachment by other base fuels into the electric generation process.
Ranging from funding for the federal clean coal technology programs, sitting and permitting issues, water usage and routine “rate increase” hearings before the Public Service Commission or even pathways for new power lines, the power industry has not hesitated to summon the assistance of coal to intervene on its behalf. And, over the years the coal industry has been quick to respond.
After all, the coal industry and electric utility industry are intrinsically linked and up until now interdependent on one another — partners of sorts and rightfully so — they are jointly responsible for building the infrastructure and power system that has delivered America’s household and industrial power in a reliable and secure fashion over the years. Because of this coal-fired power system we have emerged as a world leader, transforming our culture into a modern, electrified Mecca and establishing an extraordinary quality of life for our citizenry.
Here in West Virginia, we have jointly accounted for upwards of 60 percent of all business taxes paid to the state and the benefits of coal severance monies returned to counties across our state has been discussed ad nauseum.
Now the rub… increased political and government pressures for low cost fuel and for transitioning towards other energy forms coupled with the perception of abundant natural gas has led to strong speculation that the power industry is beginning to break its long standing partnership with coal and those dependent on the current coal economy. Electric utility officials have said as much recently.
The decision not to refit the Big Sandy plant in nearby Kentucky at this time plays into that position.
We would urge AEP and other in-state utilities, to strengthen their resolve and “dance with the one who brought you.”
Just as there’s been no hesitation to call upon coal to assist in the utility industry’s political, operational and technical agendas, coal is relying on assistance from its utility partners to combat the anti-coal forces at work everyday to weaken this time-tested power system that has been responsible for so much within our world. After all, we are “partners of sorts” and the general coal economy is now asking for greater staying power from its energy partner.
Coal’s economy not only includes the 63,000 West Virginians who show up at a mine everyday but also includes railroad workers who are responsible for getting our product to end users and our ports for export market, and all the indirect jobs reliant on coal as well as the millions of dollars that go into state health care, retirees’ medical benefits and abandoned mine land programs. The infusion of millions of coal severance dollars into local economies and for state funded educational programs and programs for the less fortunate and seniors is also unmatched.
The promise of abundant natural gas aside — which may or may not pass the test of time as an energy partner, — we call upon the utility industry to step up to the plate, and recognize the historic significance of coal-fired electric generation its continued benefits and to simply “dance with the one who brought you.”
Appearing to be political correct or succumbing to increased political pressures may be convenient, but ultimately is short-sided and potentially places our current power supply that we’re accustomed in jeopardy. Such a move would also all but obviate a long term cost benefit model when factoring the true cost of transition away from coal.
We believe the time is now for taking our partnership to new heights and call upon our utility friends to join coal in developing workable energy and cost savings strategies going forward.
Chris Hamilton is Co-Chair of the West Virginia Coal Forum and Vice-President of the West Virginia Coal Association.