As Coal Fades, a West Virginia Wind Farm draws Support

May 10, 2022

Washington Post:

As I drove through the northeastern part of the state, I passed barren landscapes that had been torn apart by mountaintop removal, a form of mining in which the tops of mountains are literally blasted off to expose layers of coal. Then, suddenly, massive wind turbines appeared on the horizon, sitting atop some of the same mountains that had been scarred by fossil fuel production.

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which took place indoors because of heavy rain, I spotted Keith McIntosh, Manchin’s state projects coordinator, in the crowd of local politicians and clean energy advocates.

McIntosh declined to talk to me on the record. But he subsequently delivered a speech on behalf of Manchin that touted wind power’s role in West Virginia’s — and America’s — energy future.

“Today marks a major milestone for West Virginia,” McIntosh said. “Black Rock’s 23 state-of-the-art wind turbines are a significant addition to our state’s energy portfolio. Wind power is a clean, practical energy source that can be used to meet nationwide demand while achieving our collective climate goals.”

He added in an apparent reference to coal mining: “For generations, West Virginia has powered our nation to greatness. And investments like this will ensure our state will remain an energy superpower for generations to come.”

Several Republican state politicians also spoke at the event. Without mentioning climate change, they applauded the wind farm for bringing reliable energy and well-paying jobs to the region.

The Black Rock project “provides national security,” said West Virginia Senate President Craig Blair (R). “There’s no better time than now to recognize that with what’s going on in Eastern Europe.”

I was surprised to hear a GOP state lawmaker argue that clean energy would bolster national security following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In D.C., that argument is more typically made by liberal Democrats.

Still, Blair added that the state should take an “all-of-the-above” approach to energy policy — a phrase often invoked by Manchin that refers to encouraging the growth of both fossil fuels and renewables.

In an interview before the event, Gary Howell, a Republican member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, told me that he supports the Black Rock project because it created more than 200 jobs during construction and nearly a dozen permanent operations jobs, including through a partnership with Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College, which has a program to train students in turbine construction and maintenance.

“We’re training a whole new class of workers,” said Howell, who wore a turbine-shaped pin on his lapel. 

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