Telling It Like It Is on W.Va. Energy Policies

Charleston Gazette
23 May 2012
By Ken Ward Jr.

If some of the early posts are any indication, The State Journal’s new “Grounded” blog is a welcome addition to the journalism scene regarding energy policy in West Virginia. State Journal reporters Pam Kasey and Taylor Kuykendall were already churning out tons of energy coverage, and it looks like they’re going to be doing even more with their publication’s new blog.

Of particular importance is the sort of coverage that Pam Kasey has given so far on the blog to a political event by Republican Senate candidate John Raese and the reaction to it by incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin.

First, in a post headlined Is Senate candidate Raese obfuscating energy issues? called out the nonsense Raese pulled at an event held at the Albright Power Station in Preston County, writing:

The event was misleading from the moment the release went out inviting the media to “a major announcement on the regulatory nightmare of cap and trade here in West Virginia.” Cap and trade died in the Senate in 2010 and shows no signs of being resurrected any time soon.

She continued:

First, about FirstEnergy’s power plant closures. The utility announced in February that it would close its Albright, Rivesville and Willow Island stations by September, citing at the time upcoming environmental regulations as a primary factor.

FirstEnergy has since explained in filings with the Public Service Commission of West Virginia that the small, old, inefficient plants are a financial drain on the company; the fact that it is closing the plants well in advance of the Jan. 1, 2015, effective date of the primary environmental regulations it cites supports that. This was reported by The State Journal in April and in May.

Raese’s statement clings to the idea that environmental regulations are the only reason for the closures. But the fact is, these generating units are all more than 50 years old, some much older. They aren’t up to current technological standards — that includes environmental standards but also standards of efficiency.

Pam went on to note the absurdity of Raese calling Sen. Manchin’s legislation “cap-and-trade”:

Cap and trade, a system that would administer allowances for a limited volume of carbon dioxide emissions and let companies trade those allowances in an open market in order to find the most efficient allocation, was considered at the national level but has never been policy in West Virginia.

House Bill 103 established the state’s renewable and alternative and renewable energy portfolio standard — an entirely different policy that requires utilities to generate minimum levels of their power from alternative and renewable sources.

And then, having unwrapped and exposed this silliness, Pam calls it like it is – -something that the he said/she said formula most journalism follows doesn’t allow and something that you can only do well if you know your subject like Pam knows energy issues:

Raese has an opportunity, as a high-profile candidate, to educate voters on complex and important issues of energy policy. The statements he made in Albright don’t clarify the issues for voters but rather confuse them to exploit and further an anti-EPA sentiment.

What happened next was that Sen. Manchin’s re-election campaign liked this blog post so much that they did one of these “ICYMI” notes to other media outlets, touting it was proof that Raese was misleading people, saying:

Raese’s claim that Manchin passed a law eliminating coal usage is simply not true. Both the West Virginia Coal Association and Chamber of Commerce support West Virginia’s measure. In 2009, Governor Manchin signed the Alternative and Renewable Energy Act that encourages the coal industry to continue to lead our nation toward energy independence. The legislation does nothing to inhibit the use of coal in West Virginia’s power plants because it classifies coal as an alternative energy source, allowing the goals of the Act to be accomplished using only coal and natural gas.

Pam picked up on this and, in a follow-up blog post, explained:

It became clear, we reported late last year as the last of the utilities’ compliance plans were under review by the Public Service Commission, that the large utilities would not need to make any changes to meet the standard of 25 percent of electricity from “alternative and renewable” sources by 2025. As “alternative and renewable” were defined in the act, AEP, for example, accumulates credits for generation from supercritical (high-temperature) coal-fired generation at Amos and Mountaineer and natural gas-fired generation at its new Dresden plant in Ohio, along with wind and hydropower generation and energy efficiency programs.

The act allows only 10 percent of compliance generation to come from natural gas and 10 percent from supercritical coal. AEP is getting some of its power from the wind and hydropower that we conventionally think of as alternative and renewable. But a utility could, theoretically, get the remaining 80 percent of its compliance generation from coalbed methane, waste coal and liquid fuels made from coal.

The campaign also boasts in its fact check document that the state’s major utilities are in compliance with the standard 13 years ahead of schedule, citing the State Journal story referenced above. The lack of ambition that shows on the part of the act’s creators appears as a point of pride.

The Manchin campaign states outright now what some suspected was the intention at the time the act was passed.

If you want to understand how important this kind of journalism is to West Virginia right now, just compare it (as the AP’s Vicki Smith suggested on Twitter) to the lame story that MetroNews (which is owned by Raese) produced on this same news event, or read the Daily Mail’s story on yesteday’s kick-off of the taxpayer-funded series of meetings attacking the Obama administration.