OVJA said coal miners throughout Central Appalachia and Northern Appalachia have endured significant threats to their livelihood during the past few years as dozens of mines have closed or cut back operations in the face of stricter environmental regulations from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and low natural prices that have led to coal to gas switching by some electric utilities in the region.
In eastern Kentucky, for instance, coal employment plunged to fewer than 5,900 jobs at the end of 2015, the lowest figure in decades.
Against this backdrop, several out-of-state power plant developers such as Advanced Power AG, a Swiss-based company that develops plants in Europe, the Middle East and the United States, are planning to build large gas plants in Ohio and West Virginia that would be capable of operating around the clock, similar to baseload coal plants. They said new gas generation will replace the thousands of megawatts of retiring coal generation.
Advanced Power’s latest project is the 1,105-megawatt South Field Energy combined-cycle gas plant in Columbiana County, Ohio.
OVJA also is opposing the 549-megawatt Moundsville Power gas plant proposed for Marshall County, West Virginia.
During a recent West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection hearing for Moundsville Power, OVJA member Jim Thomas testified on behalf of the organization. “The mission of OVJA, is to protect good jobs for the families of West Virginia,” he said. “I was born and raised in Marshall County. I’m a retired coal miner. I worked in the mines for 38 years. Coal made the state of West Virginia.”
Thomas said gas plants like Moundsville Power could cause more coal plants to close, resulting in even fewer jobs for coal miners. OVJA contends coal plants provide substantially more jobs for families in the region — both in the plants and the coal mines that serve them — than natural gas plants will provide.
In neighboring Ohio, South Field Energy is one of five large gas plants either under construction or development in the Buckeye state. Together, those plants would generate in excess of 4,000 megawatts, or more than the two largest Ohio coal plants combined.