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Editorial: All-of-the-above approach to energy makes sense

Herald-Dispatch editorial

Advocates for the coal industry – both those connected to the business as well as government officials concerned about tax revenues and miners’ jobs – often argue that energy policies should be built on an “all-of-the-above” approach. Their desire, of course, is that coal as a fuel source is not left behind when it comes to the nation’s energy future.

For states such as West Virginia, whose economy has long been based heavily on coal production, that’s a welcome message, especially in light of policies in recent years that seem directed at pushing coal out of the long-term picture.

However, for policy makers in the Mountain State as well as other coal-reliant states, adopting that same “all-of-the-above” approach to other forms of energy, including renewable sources such as wind and solar, also makes sense.

While the coal industry has showed some signs of renewed life recently, mostly driven by rising prices for coal used to make steel, few expect it to return as strong as it once was. That’s why it’s important for West Virginia officials to become more receptive to helping develop other forms of energy – not just natural gas, but also renewable forms of energy – into more significant segments of the state’s economy.

The view of Chris Beam, the new president of Appalachian Power, might help explain why. In a recent interview with the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Beam spelled out that his company still uses coal-fire power plants but building any more of them is not in the company’s plans. Instead, it’s looking to boost its wind-generation capacity and is likely to announce soon a project in that vein in Southern West Virginia.

One of the main reasons for that approach is simple. Businesses that Appalachian Power would like to attract to the state – he mentioned Amazon and Google – are looking for guarantees of a power supply that comes from completely renewable sources, such as wind or solar. “At the end of the day, West Virginia may not require us to be clean, but our customers are,” Beam told the Gazette-Mail. “So if we want to bring in those jobs, and those are good jobs, those are good-paying jobs that support our universities because they hire our engineers, they have requirements now, and we have to be mindful of what our customers want.”

In other words, promoting a more varied energy portfolio that is welcome to renewable sources as well as coal could open opportunities to boost the state’s economy – something that West Virginia badly needs.

In neighboring Kentucky, a project is being explored that might illustrate what could be possible. Earlier this month, the Berkeley Energy Group, EDF Renewable Energy and former Democratic state Auditor Adam Edelen revealed that they are considering two former mountaintop removal mining sites just outside of Pikeville as possible locations for a solar farm that would contain hundreds of thousands of solar panels. As they envision it, most of the jobs created from the project would be during construction, but an undetermined number of jobs would be permanent – perhaps offering employment to former coal miners.

“We can build solar on the foundation of coal,” Edelen told The Associated Press. “Kentucky has long been an energy producer that has powered the entire country. There’s no reason why we can’t continue to be that, but we have to adopt an all of the above energy strategy.”

There’s that phrase again — all of the above. West Virginia would be wise to emphasize the same strategy.

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