Coal Tattoo

FirstEnergy’s Harrison Power Station near Haywood is among the state’s largest coal-fired power plants. Ohio-based FirstEnergy wants to sell the plant to a West Virginia subsidiary, and Mountain State customers would fund the purchase through increased electricity bills. (FirstEnergy photo)

After we published a story of mine a few weeks ago about proposals by power companies to sell several of their coal-fired plants to West Virginia subsidiaries, the president of Charleston-based Appalachian Power, Charles Patton, submitted an op-ed commentary in response:

Make no mistake, Appalachian Power is committed not only to enhancing energy efficiency, but to diversifying our fuel sources. We are today and intend to continue making investments on both those fronts. However, neither of those goals should deter us from pursuing the best short- and long-term interests of our customers. Appalachian Power has a responsibility to provide power to customers in the most reliable manner at the best possible cost. The proposed transfer of Mitchell and Amos plants does just that.

My story, of course, had described the growing controversy over this issue this way:

Public Service Commission staff members and the agency’s consumer advocate already are raising serious questions about the proposals. Also, a growing number of various interest groups, from environmental organizations to gas industry lobby groups, have intervened in the two cases pending before the PSC.

A growing number of critics say the deals would lock West Virginia into relying on coal, a polluting fuel whose role in U.S. electricity production is in decline as world energy markets are in flux. The proposals are shaping up to be a major fight over the future of coal — and over a variety of other important energy issues, from efficiency and reliability to global warming.

“We’re at a turning point,” said Bill Howley, a Calhoun County resident who follows energy issues and advocates changes to the system on a blog called The Power Line.

If you’re interested in this issue, one of the things you definitely want to do is keep up with Bill’s blog, which can be accessed here. It isn’t always the sweet, moderate language we use here on Coal Tattoo, but Bill certainly gets right to the heart of things. For example, in one recent post, he explained:

If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with BS.  That seems to be AEP’s approach to dumping its coal-fired dinosaurs on WV rate payers.

And in another recent piece, Bill reported on the demise (again) of legislation to require more comprehensive planning by the state’s utilities:

For the second year in a row, Bill Raney and the WV Coal Association butted in on a Legislative conversation about keeping electric rates lower for West Virginians.  For the second year in a row, the coal industry manipulated and fear-mongered and got its pet legislators (both Republicans and Democrats) to kill bills that would have made a real difference for WV businesses and citizens.

One thing is crystal clear – WV’s coal industry sees lower electric rates as a clear threat to their profits.  The industry wants to hold back the entire state in its desperate battle against declining productivity, rising production costs and declining demand for its product.

And it’s also worth checking out this post, in which Bill discussion who the real enemies of West Virginia’s coal industry are:

Wyoming’s sub-bituminous coal does not have the heat content of Appalachian Basin coal, but even with high transportation costs, Wyoming coal is out-competing WV steam coal in the US in a growing number of electricity markets.

Appalachian Basin coal is also facing serious competition from high sulfur, strip mined coal in southern Illinois. Now that the Cheney administration set aside the Clean Air Act, obsolete power plants, like WV’s John Amos plant and the Harrison Power Station, have been able to add stack scrubbers. These plants can now burn high sulfur coal again and still generate legal limits of sulfur and nitrogen emissions. And more and more of that high sulfur coal has been coming from strip mines in southern Illinois and western Kentucky.

So the real enemies of WV coal are not the phantoms of the WV Coal Association’s fevered imagination. The real enemies of the WV coal industry are in the industry itself. And, oh yeah, many of them, like Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources, are producing coal in Wyoming and Montana while they play WV politicians and coal miners for chumps.