|Coal was loaded at Cumberland, Ky., near Virginia, in 2019. (Photo by Scott Olson, Getty Images, via Kentucky Lantern)|
Thursday, the Kentucky state Senate passed a bill to help coal-fired plants keep operating, partly at the behest of coal-reliant rural electric cooperatives. "The bill is opposed by the state’s investor-owned utilities, who say it would prevent them from retiring uneconomical fossil fuel-fired generators and burden consumers with unnecessary costs," reports Jamie Lucke of Kentucky Lantern.
The bill passed 25-8, with all "no" votes coming from senators who represent cities and suburbs; half of them were Republicans, whose party controls the legislature. The state should be "fuel-agnostic," said freshman Sen. Shelley Funke Frommeyer, R-Alexandria, a Cincinnati exurb.
In West Virginia, "Several pro-coal lawmakers support clean-energy startups and alternative electricity sources," and the Legislature repealed the state's ban on nuclear power last year, reports Lee Harris of The American Prospect, a neoliberal magazine. Sean O’Leary, a senior researcher at the Ohio River Valley Institute, told Harris, “To the degree West Virginia is trying to diversify its energy portfolio, its principal focus is on [natural] gas. But folks are still worried and on particular projects and bills, some are starting to wander a little ways off the coal reservation.”
Market forces, and out-of-state politics, are at work. "In 2021, the state’s industry-compliant Public Service Commission approved upgrades at three aging coal-fired power plants, which are expected to keep them operational through 2040," Harris notes. "Kentucky and Virginia refused to impose the costs of those upgrades on their own ratepayers, meaning West Virginia residents will shoulder the full $448 million cost of the upgrades."
This year, West Virginia lawmakers selved a manufacturers-backed bill to encourage developent of gas-fired power plants in favor one directing the state to accelerate coal-fiered power projects, and "the Office of Coalfield Community Development, which was originally set up to help West Virginia transition away from coal, is now being called in to help revive the industry," Harris reports.
Last year, the legislature created a commission "to match grants that former coalfield communities receive, but Gov. Jim Justice hasen't appointed any members, Alexa Beyer of Mountain State Spotlight reports. "Justice owns multiple coal companies, and other lawmakers, including Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, have deep ties to the industry," Harris notes. "The two may square off in Manchin’s 2024 Senate re-election race."