Editorial Roundup: West Virginia

The (Huntington) Herald-Dispatch. Oct. 17, 2021.

Editorial: PSC decision gives WV time to consider coal plants’ futures

The headline on an email sent by an energy news aggregator website said it well: “West Virginia regulators go all in on coal plants.”

Last week the Public Service Commission granted the request from American Electric Power subsidiaries Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power to increase rates to pay for wastewater treatment upgrades at the John Amos, Mountaineer and Mitchell coal-fired generating plants in Putnam, Mason and Marshall counties.

Tuesday’s order was the result of Kentucky and Virginia utility regulators, which share jurisdiction of the plants, blocking the companies’ requests to stay compliant with federal wastewater rules on the grounds that their plans were uneconomic. The PSC’s order last week approves West Virginia ratepayers picking up a burden of nearly $22 million per year from Virginia and Kentucky customers to pay for the wastewater treatment upgrades.

Federal rules require the companies to shutter the plants in 2028 if they don’t make the upgrades. According to the PSC, the estimated total cost to bring all three plants into federal environmental compliance is $448.3 million. The estimated cost to West Virginia customers of prematurely retiring the three power plants and replacing their collective generation capacity is between $1.9 and $2.3 billion.

While the national trend is against extending the life of coal-burning power plants, the PSC gave several reasons for justifying its decision: direct employment at the plants; use of West Virginia coal; state, county and local taxes related to operating generation plants; and related employment in businesses supporting the plants and the coal industry.

According to data provided by the federal Energy Information Administration, the three plants took delivery of about 8.5 million tons of coal last year. About 6.9 million tons of that came from West Virginia mines, with the rest coming from Ohio and Kentucky.

The PSC said it also considered the reliability of fuel secure base load generation capacity in making its decision.

The American electrical generation and transmission system is undergoing historic change, but West Virginia so far has stayed with its long-lasting reliance on coal. West Virginia state law prohibits the construction of nuclear power plants in the state. As border states see their utilities switch from coal to natural gas, solar and wind power, West Virginia clings to coal.

Although a few gas-burning peaker plants — so called because they operate only in times of peak demand — have been built in the state, including two in Wayne County, coal interests and politicians fight attempts to build utility-scale plants that would burn natural gas. West Virginia is one of the nation’s largest producers of natural gas, but powerful interests here don’t want us to benefit from it.

What the PSC did was to buy time for Appalachian Power, the communities that rely on the plants and the people who mine the coal to supply them. Many things can happen between now and 2028 or the projected end of the plants’ economic lives in 2040. The move away from coal could intensify, or people who had banked on renewables could have buyer’s remorse and decide coal-burning power plants are worth saving.

The story of these plants isn’t over. The final chapters haven’t been written. The PSC’s decision is good news for some people and bad news for others, but now all stakeholders in the plants’ future have time to prepare for what comes next.

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Charleston Gazette-Mail. Oct. 18, 2021.

Editorial: Sissonville man makes strong case for vaccination

Christopher Holmes started feeling sick in early June. He went into the hospital with COVID-19 on June 14, and remained there for 80 grueling days.

Holmes, 44, shared his story during Gov. Jim Justice’s coronavirus briefing Monday, saying he was initially against getting the COVID-19 vaccine, and was against his family, including his two children, getting the shot because of rumors he’d heard about side effects.

Holmes, of Sissonville, was lucky. He didn’t become one of the 4,134 West Virginians — or nearly 720,000 Americans — to lose his life to the pandemic.

But the price of refusing the vaccine was high.

Holmes said he lost about 150 pounds in the hospital, and his muscle atrophy was so great that he had to relearn how to walk. He’s still in physical therapy, he said.

While hospitalized, one day he’d be doing fine and, the next, doctors weren’t sure if he would live, Holmes said. He wound up on a ventilator before recovering. He received nearly 200 injections in his stomach for blood clots.

“I pretty much had hoses sticking out of every part of my body,” Holmes said. “I had a feeding tube. They had to put a ‘trake’ in me so I could breathe, and I’ll have that scar for the rest of my life.”

Holmes said he hopes more West Virginians will choose to get vaccinated, to avoid what happened to him, or worse. He added that he knows the vaccine works, because everyone in his home contracted COVID-19 except for his daughter, who got vaccinated against his wishes.

“I didn’t want her to get the shot,” he said. “If she didn’t, and the roles were reversed and it was her laying up in that hospital like me, could you live with yourself? I couldn’t.”

Holmes makes a strong case about the human cost of an issue that has too often had that element removed from the argument. COVID-19 doesn’t care about misinformation from conspiracy theorists or political hacks.

Hopefully, Holmes’ message will hit home with unvaccinated West Virginians and spur them to action.

Inoculation rates are still crawling, and public health experts have warned that another surge in cases and deaths is inevitable once winter arrives, unless 80% of the state population is fully vaccinated. The state is anywhere from 30 to 40 percentage points off that target right now, depending on the source.

Meanwhile, Justice has watched the delta variant tear through the state from the sidelines, saying he doesn’t want to be “divisive.” Justice promoted “local control” as it pertained to public health measures. After many employers adopted vaccine mandates to try and protect their workers and clients, Justice introduced legislation to undermine those local decisions through medical and religious exemptions. Hopefully, the governor was listening to Holmes’ story and advice, too.

Holmes said he doesn’t look down on anyone who hasn’t gotten vaccinated, but he added that he believes they should.

“I’m just saying everyone should get the shot,” he said. “If you can save one life, it’s worth it.”

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Parkersburg News and Sentinel. Oct. 14, 2021.

Editorial: Dependence: West Virginia increasingly relies on federal funds

Lest we believe even the most conservative among us has not become quietly dependent on the federal government, here in West Virginia, state Speaker of the House Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, gave an important reminder earlier this week.

“Without us authorizing the use of those funds, the money will go back to the federal government, and a lot of those programs that the average West Virginian is used to seeing the government perform wouldn’t be possible,” he told another media outlet Monday.

He was discussing the approximately 30 appropriations bills introduced during this week’s special session, to funnel a large amount of federal money to state agencies. We are talking about $16 million to the Bureau of Senior Services or $3 million to the Department of Veterans Assistance and Veterans’ Home Fund, to name just a couple of the items. In addition there is CARES Act money that must be doled out. Hanshaw and crew understand West Virginia hospitals might be dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic for years, and that federal money will be key in supporting that effort, too. They plan to hold on to the CARES Act money to cushion that blow.

In the grand scheme of state government the appropriations bills on their own might not seem like much — a couple hundred thousand here, three-quarters of a million there … but when you add them all up, it paints a picture of federal government dependence that, as Hanshaw correctly pointed out, “the average West Virginian is used to seeing.”

Once we’ve gotten used to it, it is nearly impossible to go backward, and the folks in Washington, D.C., know it. It doesn’t take much to figure out, now that we’re hooked, how they will decide to pay for it.

END