April 2, 2021 - While coal may not be the king of the economy like it once was, it remains critical to continued growth and success, not just in West Virginia but in the nation and the world.
So while it’s understandable, in light of climate concerns, that there is more focus on cleaner-burning forms of energy, coal should not be relegated to the slag piles of current or foreseeable history.
Quite simply, the country, the state and the North Central West Virginia region can’t afford for that to happen.
As a recent study by the Bureau of Business & Economic Research at the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics shows, coal’s impact in West Virginia remains strong.
The mining and coal-fired power generation industries in West Virginia combined for 33,000 jobs, $2.8 billion in employee compensation, $611 million in state and local tax revenues and $13.9 billion in total economic activity in 2019. The industries supported 17% of the state’s total economic output, or one out of every six dollars generated.
Locally, coal’s impact just in Harrison County is startling because it is home to the Harrison Power Station, which is the largest user of coal in the state.
The First Energy plant had a direct economic impact of $596.8 million to Harrison County in 2019, according the study. It employs 414 workers and paid an estimated $73 million in employee compensation in 2019.
Additionally, Harrison Power Station accounted for about $23 million in state and local tax revenue, according to the study.
The study estimates the power station generated more than $517.5 million in secondary economic impact and an additional 1,066 jobs, equating to another $105 million in employee compensation.
“This study highlights just how profoundly important mining and coal-fired power facilities are to Harrison County, as well as West Virginia’s workforce, local communities and overall economy,” said Chris Hamilton, president of the West Virginia Coal Association.
While we know there are studies that show some aspects of clean energy having strong economic impacts when employed in some regions of the world, our leaders must balance the known value of coal with its also known shortcomings in regards to environmental concerns.
They must also work to continue to find ways to burn coal in a cleaner fashion, while also moving toward using more natural gas and renewable resources for energy generation.
And our leaders must also consider the economic impact on communities that have long powered this state and nation, as well as even other parts of the world.
Hamilton is clear in his belief that West Virginia’s eight coal-fired power plants are among the most modern and efficient electricity generators found anywhere in the world, and that ending their utilization prematurely would have devastating consequences.
“Not only are these facilities responsible for a big piece of our economy, but they also continue to provide low-cost, uninterrupted power to millions of consumers in West Virginia and our surrounding states,” Hamilton said. “Given the results of this study and the contribution of these plants to grid security and resiliency, and homeland security, it is inconceivable that extreme environmental groups and other organizations, similar to the Biden administration, want to see these facilities close prematurely or transition away from coal.”
While there is a need for a balanced approach to power generation, coal must remain a key part of the equation. Anything less harms far too many to be considered worth the risk.