Coal Tattoo

Aluminum plants and power lines: Will W.Va. learn?

Over on his Power Line blog, Bill Howley has written a couple of really interesting pieces this week about the whole controversy here in West Virginia over electricity rates for the Century Aluminum plant up in Ravenswood (see for example here and here).

And in a new post, Bill provides some commentary that, while aimed specifically at this dispute, certainly has something to say about broader energy and coal issues that we cover here on Coal Tattoo. Under the headline, What the Century Case Can Teach WV Politicians, If They Will Learn, Bill makes some important points, raising these three central questions:

1. Why is the most important issue restarting a plant that is very inefficient and uses technologies that are, in many cases, 30 years old, instead of creating investment in innovation and future industrial development?

2. Why isn’t increasing the electrical efficiency of the Ravenswood plant the highest priority for WV’s political leaders and the PSC, before anyone offers Century rate or tax breaks?

3. Are there other industries and technologies that WV should be encouraging with special deals, instead of trying to resuscitate a dead plant owned by a company that is extorting special treatment from our state’s citizens?

In answering these questions, Bill concludes, among other things:

It appears that WV politicians are continuing to pursue their policies of looking backward to recreate some kind of past industrial glory instead of building a strong economy based on current and future realities. New technologies for recycling waste heat and building energy efficiency into manufacturing apparently have no place in WV, although they are at the forefront of business development around the US and the rest of the world. In addition, waste heat recovery and efficiency provide businesses with new profit centers for their existing business. Instead of supporting combined heat and power technologies that would create hundreds of new good paying jobs across WV, Gov. Tomblin and Sen. Manchin are settling for 350 jobs, maybe, in Ravenswood with an out of state company that has clearly demonstrated that it doesn’t care anything about West Virginia or its citizens.

And, he says:

We’re still waiting for real innovation and real business development that is growing elsewhere, because WV’s political leaders are stuck on their nostalgia trip of resuscitating dead plants. The rest of us need to push them for change — and push hard, because it is clear they can’t figure it out for themselves.

Over the last few years, I’ve had my differences with Bill, particularly with some of what he’s written about we in the mainstream media. But whether you agree with him or not about the Century Aluminum case, if there’s a better example of citizen journalism going on in West Virginia — one that raises more important question, brings out more otherwise unreported facts,  and, frankly, can be more widely used to inform the paid media — I don’t know what it is.