In late October, Appalachian Power President Charles Patton made headlines in West Virginia when he told a summit of energy executives that coal just isn’t coming back, even if federal rules on power plants get rolled back.
Sure, that may be conventional wisdom in much of the country, but this speech came from the president and COO of Central Appalachia’s biggest electric utility, which has relied on coal as its dominant source of generation since its inception in 1911.
Two weeks later, as he walked into Appalachian Power’s offices in Roanoke, Virginia—his news-making remarks were delivered in the West Virginia community of the same name—he acknowledged that his comments were not what the room wanted to hear. After all, the economy in southern West Virginia and southwest Virginia was built around coal mining, and many there today still fervently hope that a coal comeback will fuel a new round of economic prosperity.
The problem for them is that, even as elected officials still continue to fight the so-called “war on coal” in state houses and on Capitol Hill, Appalachian Power already is taking action that will only cement the move away from coal when it comes to producing electricity. That’s not to say the utility won’t continue to rely on its existing fleet of coal-burning power plants, but, according to a document filed with the Virginia State Corporation Commission, but Appalachian Power has begun a substantial pivot away from the fossil fuel that defined its first century. The Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) filed with the SCC on July 1 includes a dramatic decrease in its use of coal, as well as a corresponding increase in natural gas and renewable energy such as wind and solar.