Soldiers came together during the conflict for a Passover feast known as a Seder. Reporter Shepherd Snyder spoke with Joseph Golden, Jewish researcher and secretary of the Temple Beth El congregation in Beckley, along with Drew Gruber of Civil War Trails, about this celebration’s historical significance.
Virginia’s Corporation Commission, however, rejected it.
The regulatory snag shows the limits of what supporters of West Virginia’s coal plants can do to keep them from shutting down as the country moves away from fossil fuels.
‘Closing of a Culture’
Shutting down the plant would deliver an economic blow to Mason County. It employs more than 150 workers and supports other jobs in the community. Local schools depend on tax revenue from the plant.
Upstream, coal mines in northern West Virginia supply the plant with its fuel, which is delivered by barge. Those jobs are at stake, too.
“This is closing of a culture, this is closing of a community,” said Rick Altman of Wheeling, who’s been a coal miner for 44 years. “This is closing of a generational lifestyle that has really fueled this country.”
When Mountaineer opened, coal was the nation’s dominant source of electric power. Four decades later, natural gas dominates and renewables are catching up.
Coal plants like Mountaineer are becoming more expensive to operate. American Electric Power, the parent company of Appalachian Power, has two other coal-fired plants in West Virginia: the John Amos plant in Putnam County and the Mitchell plant in Marshall County. They face the same pressures.
President Joe Biden wants the nation’s power supply to become carbon-neutral in 2035. That’s five years before the West Virginia plants are scheduled to shut down if they are upgraded.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that drastic action is necessary to curb the most devastating impacts of global warming — which in the Ohio Valley would mean less predictable weather, more flooding, and second-hand impact from coastal displacement and global disruptions.
One path forward: Replacing the coal plants with carbon-free sources of energy.
Gypsum and Molasses
It isn’t only the jobs at the power plants, the coal mines or the barge companies on the line. The plant produces and consumes other materials that contribute to the local economy.
Fly ash is collected and hauled off by the truckload. It gets recycled in concrete and asphalt.
The exhaust is filtered through a huge drum that spins with powdered limestone and steel balls.
“We mix limestone and water inside of that drum that’s got them rotating balls in it,” said Brett Watt, the plant’s senior maintenance superintendent. “And it crushes this limestone up to where it’s a slurry. It’s actually finer than the coal is.”
That removes sulfur dioxide and produces gypsum, which is used to make the drywall.
Probably the strangest part of the process involves molasses. Yes, molasses.
It’s used to grow bacteria that eat mercury and selenium.
“We bring in tanker trucks of molasses to feed the bacteria,” said Brian Mabe, the plant manager. “There’s, you know, a living organism that removes that.”
The plant’s closure would be bad news for the drywall plant and the molasses maker.
Fossil Fuel Allies
One thing the plant, and most like it, can’t remove from the exhaust stream is carbon dioxide.
West Virginia lawmakers have made an effort to bolster the state’s remaining coal-fired power plants. This past spring, they passed a bill that makes it harder for coal plants to shut down.
Gov. Jim Justice has also taken steps to save the state’s coal plants. He reactivated the dormant West Virginia Public Energy Authority and appointed fossil fuel allies to serve on it and find ways to keep the plants from closing.
“We know these plants won’t run forever,” Hamilton said. “You know, we’re looking for about a 20 year run. Maybe a couple of decades.”
Justice also appointed the former top coal lobbyist in West Virginia to the Public Service Commission, which regulates coal plants. Justice himself owns companies that mine coal.
The federal government is poised to spend billions of dollars to reclaim abandoned mines in Appalachia, and that could help communities that are losing jobs.
Altman started working in the mines when he was 19, and he said he’s heard the promises before. As more power plants and coal mines close, he said, the government needs to step up.
“Don’t just have a plan and say, ‘don’t you worry.’ I’m 63 years old. I got laid off the first time in 1979. You know what I was told by the government? ‘Don’t worry about this, we got you covered. We’re going to educate you, we’re gonna do this.’ I’m still waiting for that to happen. I’m truly waiting for that to happen.”
After a playful half hour of taking questions in the school gymnasium from the all-student audience, the governor had students help hold his pen as he began signing House Bill 3035, the Third Grade Success Act, putting teachers aides in grades one through three.
On this West Virginia Morning, the last few weeks of news from the world of banking has shaken confidence in financial institutions both at home and abroad. Reporter Chris Schulz set out to find what the real impact has been on West Virginia’s financial institutions.