We've got to think about solar and wind on these gorgeous mountains, we've got to get away from coal. It's a matter of being comfortable in your home, warm in the winter and not suffocating in the summer. Not having to sacrifice your mortgage to be comfortable. — Felisha Chase
We've got to think about solar and wind on these gorgeous mountains, we've got to get away from coal. It's a matter of being comfortable in your home, warm in the winter and not suffocating in the summer. Not having to sacrifice your mortgage to be comfortable. — Felisha Chase
West Virginia's reliance on coal is getting more expensive, and Joe Manchin's constituents are footing the bill
"It does feel wrong when your electric bill is more than your mortgage," Chase told CNN. "Around here the old adage is 'coal keeps the lights on.' Anyone struggling to keep their electric on knows it's more than the lights."

Her electricity bill spikes every January, when Chase estimates her electricity usage increases five- or six-fold. In September, she was still paying down a remaining balance of $600 from the winter before -- twice the cost of her monthly mortgage payment. Her cumulative bill has gone as high as $1,400.

As America has largely transitioned away from coal-fired power, West Virginia has thrown its weight behind it. The state is the second-largest coal producer in the country, and coal generates nearly 89% of its electricity compared to just 19% nationwide -- a steep fall from 1990, when coal powered 52% of US electricity.

But coal has become more expensive than renewables or natural gas, the prices of which have fallen rapidly, and in West Virginia, the ratepayers are footing the bill. With three of the state's major coal-fired power plants in need of hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of mandatory upgrades, costs for ratepayers like Chase will continue to go up.


Coal may be a dying industry in the US, but Joe Manchin, a key Democratic swing vote in the Senate, isn't interested in hastening its demise.

... The electric bills "will explode come January," Chase told CNN. "If I'm struggling over here, I must be representative of hundreds if not thousands of West Virginians."

Coal-fired power in West Virginia is not as cheap as it once was.

The rates for Chase's electricity utility, Ohio-based American Electric Power, have risen sharply over the past decade. The residential electricity rates of AEP's West Virginia subsidiaries have risen 122% over the last 13 years, from an average of $62.46 per month in 2008 to $138.57 per month in 2021.


Chase tries to use her electricity as little as possible. She sweated through this summer's heat wave to avoid turning on the air conditioning. In the winter, cold air seeps in from the roof, clapboards, and windows of her 100-year-old home.

Covering the cracks with sheets of plastic brings little relief. Her gas furnace only heats the first level of the house, so Chase relies on electric baseboards and five space heaters to keep the second level warm.

"You staple, and you tape, and you plastic all those drafty spaces," she said. "It was like my plastic kingdom, trying to keep the heat in."

AEP's three coal-fired power plants in West Virginia -- John Amos, Mountaineer and Mitchell -- are in need of $448 million worth of mandatory upgrades in order to remain federally compliant, causing electricity rates to increase by 3.3% starting in September 2022, according to Tammy Ridout, a spokesperson for AEP. These upgrades would allow the plants to stay open until 2040, rather than being shut down in 2028.

... Even as coal is causing her electricity prices to go up, Chase respects its history in the state. Her grandfather was a coal miner who died from black lung disease; her grandmother helped raise her with the money the coal company paid their family after he died.

"It is so divided here, for the love of coal and the love of the mountains, but how can you love both?" Chase said. "We've got to think about solar and wind on these gorgeous mountains, we've got to get away from coal. It's a matter of being comfortable in your home, warm in the winter and not suffocating in the summer. Not having to sacrifice your mortgage to be comfortable."


As the weather turns colder, Chase's anxiety is growing again.

"If the rates are increasing it seems like the rug is literally being pulled out from under me as I'm trying to get ahead," she said.
Read the full article: https://www.cnn.com/2021/10/19/politics/west-virginia-coal-rates-manchin-climate/index.html