It was an interesting tale of two states last week with regard to coal production in West Virginia and Virginia.
In the Mountain State, officials confirmed that second quarter coal production gains in southern West Virginia had increased over a million short tons from the first quarter of the year to 13.3 million short tons. That’s also up from 11.9 million short tons a year ago.
That sounds about right given the uptick in coal mining activity here in the deep south counties. It’s not unusual now to see coal trucks on area roadways, along with trains hauling coal through Bluefield’s historic Norfolk Southern railyard.
But in the neighboring Commonwealth of Virginia, the state’s newly released energy plan tries hard to downplay coal while placing a heavy focus on renewable energy, including wind and solar.
According to the newly drafted energy plan, coal-fired plants generated only about 11 percent of the electricity used in Virginia in 2016, with 52 percent coming from natural gas, 28 percent from nuclear, 6 percent from renewables and 2 percent from hydroelectric power.
Virginia’s plan seeks to double the Commonwealth’s renewable energy use to 16 percent by 2022 with a heavy focus on solar energy. But the plan does specifically call for the creation of “energy storage facilities in Southwest Virginia,” which points to state support for Dominion Energy’s proposed hydroelectric pump station project for Tazewell County.
The large-scale $2 billion development, which is considered green energy, could prove to be an economic game changer for Southwest Virginia if it comes to fruition. Dominion Energy is still performing tests on East River Mountain, near Bluefield, Va., to determine the suitability of the site for the project. The company is expected to make a final decision on the Tazewell County site in early 2019.
While area officials have embraced the pump station project, lawmakers like Delegate James W. “Will” Morefield, R-Tazewell, also would like to see a greater focus on coal in Virginia’s energy plan.
“The production of electricity from coal is substantially cheaper per kilowatt hour than wind and solar,” Morefield told the Daily Telegraph last week. “This is very important because higher electricity prices have a direct negative impact on the poor, middle-class working families, the elderly, and the economy as a whole. Higher energy costs result in the price increase of goods and services. This is a very real issue in Southwest Virginia.”
Morefield is correct. Coal should be a part of Virginia’s energy plan. But the differing political views on coal between Virginia and West Virginia officials isn’t surprising. It all boils down to which political party is controlling the state.
Republicans control both legislative chambers in West Virginia by a healthy margin and most are openly supportive of the coal industry. Gov. Jim Justice also is a Republican. His family owns several coal mines.
The story is different in Virginia where Republicans maintain a razor thin majority in the Virginia General Assembly.
However, Democrats have made strong gains in the state in recent years, thanks in part to the population heavy metropolitan areas of Northern Virginia that tend to vote heavily Democratic. Governor Ralph Northam also is a Democrat, but is considered a moderate.
Despite which political party is in control, both states will continue to mine coal for the foreseeable future.
While demand for coal is down at home, the market for American coal is up internationally. And that international demand is helping to fuel coal production growth locally.
Anytime coal miners return to work, it is good news for the economies of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia.
See the article here.
- On October 14, 2018