CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
June 7 – The Charleston Daily Main on growing crops:
What can people in West Virginia do to make the state more economically productive and diverse, particularly to overcome the loss of many of its traditional big money industries?
How about agriculture?
A crazy idea considering the rugged terrain of much of the Mountain State, but when you look further, is it such a crazy idea after all?
The Gazette-Mail featured a group of farmers working together at a place you’d least expect it, the grounds of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank.
Last week, farmers planted the last of six five-acre plots on a stretch of level land between the Observatory’s headquarters building and the 100-meter Green Bank Telescope with potatoes. The work, done by six teams of Pocahontas County farmers using a state-owned planting machine, is part of an effort by the West Virginia Department of Agriculture to encourage farmers to consider growing potatoes as a new cash crop.
Records show that in 1927, West Virginia’s best year for agricultural production, about 53,000 acres were devoted to potato production statewide, compared with less than 1,000 acres today.
“More than 1,000 acres of potatoes were once grown in this county alone,” state Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick told reporter Rick Steelhammer at the Green Bank facility in Pocahontas County. “Kanawha County once had 2,200 acres in potatoes, making it the second-biggest potato county in the state, behind Preston,” he said.
Statewide, “we have a $6 billion divide between the food we eat and the $1 billion worth of food we produce,” said Helmick. By encouraging farmers to produce more of the state’s most-consumed agricultural product, “we can help close that gap,” he said.
And it’s not just potatoes, but apples, tomatoes, corn, squash and countless other crops grow well in West Virginia’s temperate climate and many fertile valleys.
Boosting and broadening West Virginia’s agricultural industry is a vital part of diversifying the state’s economy.
As it is now in West Virginia, farming is no small potatoes. The state Department of Agriculture reports there are 22,100 farms in West Virginia encompassing 3.62 million acres.
But there is more land available for cultivation, including nontraditional areas (how about urban rooftops?) and the ability of West Virginians to profit from feeding a growing world is limited only by their imagination and their determination to make it work.
June 5 – The Exponent Telegram on a gas-fired power plant:
Harrison County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Jamie Metz said during a meeting of the Harrison County Economic Development Authority recently that a gas-fired power plant is a crucial project that will have a huge impact on the region for generations to come.
We couldn’t agree more.
The power plant will be located on 20 acres within a 200-acre industrial park planned on Pinnickinnick Hill in the Montpelier Addition of Clarksburg, according to Curtis Wilkerson, a spokesman for Energy Solutions Consortium, the company behind the power plant.
“The construction cost is about $550 million,” Wilkerson said of the power plant. “We’re looking at a 24- to 30-month construction phase that will bring an estimated 1,400 direct job years (one person employed for one year is a job year). Total job years — direct, indirect and induced — is 3,400 job years.”
Which by any measure is a good economic development project for Harrison County and all of North Central West Virginia.
“The plant will use Harrison County gas. It will have a backup pipeline to an interstate pipeline, as well. We know it’s creating more local jobs in the gas-producing areas of Harrison County,” Wilkerson said.
The new plant would sell its power into the PJM Interconnection, which regulates wholesale electricity across 13 states.
Supporters of the gas-fired plant believe it can co-exist with the current Harrison Power Station, which is coal-fired, as both are needed.
It would probably be wise if FirstEnergy would add co-generation capabilities to the Harrison Power Station, as well as its other coal-fired facilities located near Marcellus gas sources.
Such a move would enable FirstEnergy to keep electricity costs low for its consumers — since gas is cheaper than coal. Plus, it would enable First Energy to achieve the Clean Power Plan targets for reduction of carbon emissions.
It will take a couple of years to complete the permitting and regulation process for the gas-fired power plant in Harrison County. There are at least eight state and federal agencies that have authority over the project, Wilkerson explained.
“We had very positive feedback, and other public meetings will be held in the future as the regulatory process moves forward,” he said. “Our first step is always to talk to the people closest to the plant and to keep them informed.”
The fact that natural-gas-fired plants could — and likely will — be located in other states should be of paramount concern to all West Virginians. Natural-gas-fired plants are now the lead producer of electricity in the nation, surpassing coal-fired plants last April.
“If we don’t use the natural gas in Harrison County, the alternative is to ship it out of state so somebody else can do it,” Wilkerson said. “Why wouldn’t we want to take advantage of that natural gas in the state and create a commodity out of it?
When you consider the current need and the forecast need, it only makes sense that more West Virginia power generation come from gas-fired plants.
Don’t misunderstand. We still support coal and coal-fired power plants.
However, any new power generation capacity must come from natural gas and hydroelectric sources in our state.
The new Harrison power plant will be the first dedicated gas industry downstream project in the county since the Marcellus revolution has happened.
While we all are keeping our fingers crossed for a cracker facility in West Virginia and the associated downstream manufacturing jobs that will come with it, this gas-fired power plant is the first step in realizing the positive local impact of the Marcellus shale play here at home.
June 8 – The Journal on the Legislature and the state budget:
At first glance, some West Virginians may wonder why the Legislature is not scheduled to resume work on a state budget until Sunday. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin plans to veto the spending plan sent to him last week — and a new one needs to be in place no later than July 1.
After lawmakers approved a budget proposal last week, they left Charleston during a recess not scheduled to end until Sunday. There is a very good reason for that.
As matters stand, there is little reason to think having the entire Legislature back in Charleston quickly would do any good. Though the state Senate seems to be able to devise at least the basis for a workable budget, the House of Delegates is a different story.
There, the existence of three factions has created a deadlock. One group consists of about three-fourths of the chamber’s Republicans. Another includes the remaining GOP members loosely organized as a “Liberty Caucus” vehemently opposed to any tax increases. The third faction, Democrats, has voted solidly against most budget proposals on the grounds they allegedly would not increase taxes enough.
Sending lawmakers back to Charleston this week would merely continue the bickering that has blocked agreement on a budget.
Tomblin is right to veto the plan sent to him last week. It would take $183 million out of the state’s Rainy Day Fund – and that is too much.
Legislative leaders have been far from inactive since the House and Senate recessed last week. In attempting to find some way to bring the three House factions together, they are not to be envied.
But until they manage to devise some means of gaining a majority vote in the House for a reasonable budget, there is no reason for them to call the full Legislature back to the Capitol.
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