The Voice of West Virginia
West Virginia’s Public Service Commission has given a go-ahead for improvements that could extend the lives of three coal-fired power plants — John Amos, Mountaineer and Mitchell.
“Based on the extensive record before us, we find that the upgrades at all three power Plants are prudent, cost effective, and in the best interest of the current and future utility customers, the State’s economy, and the interests of the Companies,” commissioners wrote.
What happens in the end still also depends on decisions by regulators in Kentucky and Virginia because of stakes those states have in the West Virginia-based plants.
The PSC granted Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power a certificate of convenience and necessity to make internal modifications to comply with federal environmental regulations at the plants.
The commission also authorized the companies to implement a surcharge to recover construction costs. The average residential customer using 1,000 kw/month would see an increase of about 38 cents on their monthly bill beginning Sept. 1.
The total cost is an estimated $383.5 million.
With the changes, the power plants could remain in operation until 2040.
“The Commission is very concerned about a likely shortage of electricity that shutting down the Mitchell plant prematurely would cause,” PSC Chairwoman Charlotte Lane stated in an announcement about the approval.
“We recognize that in the future, for new power supply resources, we may have to rely more on intermittent resources such as wind and solar. It is premature, however, to begin abandoning our traditional base load power supply resources, which can be upgraded to meet environmental requirements.”
The Commission’s Consumer Advocate Division, West Virginia Energy Users Group, the Sierra Club, West Virginia Citizen Action Group, West Virginia Coal Association, Solar United Neighbors and Energy Efficient were all granted intervenor status in the case.
“We are disappointed by the West Virginia Public Service Commission’s decision to approve retrofits at Mitchell that will burden ratepayers with the cost, continuing the trend of higher and higher electric bills – up 150% over the last 15 years,” stated Emmett Pepper, policy director of Energy Efficient West Virginia.
“We also believe it was a missed opportunity for the Commission to look toward an economic transition for the communities around the Mitchell plant, as coal continues its long decline in our state. As a state, we need to start planning for this and, once again, we have missed that opportunity.
The fate of the plants also depends on the decisions of regulators in other states.
Kentucky’s Public Service Commission last month rejected Kentucky Power’s request to recover costs for improvements at the Mitchell plant. Kentucky Power and Wheeling Power each own 50 percent interest in Mitchell, which is in Marshall County.
Instead, Kentucky’s commission approved a plan that would include only enough environmental upgrades to keep the plant federally compliant and operating through 2028. The Kentucky order forbid any construction contrary to its order.
“It is unclear where things stand now because, even though this commission has approved the ELG upgrades for Mitchell, it does not have the authority to do that on its own under the current ownership structure, where Wheeling Power Company and Kentucky Power Company each own an undivided 50 percent share of the plant,” said Pepper of Energy Efficient West Virginia.
West Virginia commissioners made reference to this complication but concluded they had to make their decision based on the evidence in front of them. “The decisions in this order are based on and supported by the record before us,” the West Virginia commissioners wrote.
Virginia regulators have say-so in what would happen with John Amos in Putnam County and Mountaineer in Mason County because they serve customers in those states. Virginia’s Corporation Commission hasn’t yet announced a decision.
“If there are changes in ownership or cost allocations that are required by decision in other States, the Companies should bring such changes to the attention of the Commission in an appropriate future case,” West Virginia regulators wrote.
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SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Stakeholders for Marshall University’s satellite campuses had the opportunity to express their thoughts and concerns in the search for the institution’s 38th president.
The presidential search committee held listening tour events for the South Charleston and Mid-Ohio Valley Center campus communities on Wednesday in South Charleston. The sessions are in their fourth week as the committee wants to find a replacement for outgoing President Dr. Jerome Gilbert by October. Gilbert is leaving at the end of his contract in July 2022.
Directors of the South Charleston campus and Mid-Ohio Valley Center in Point Pleasant were the first constituent group to speak with several members of the search committee in-person including BOG Chair Patrick Farrell and Dr. Monica Garcia Brooks, representing faculty. Several other search committee members joined in online. Representatives from Academic Search, an executive search firm, were also in attendance.
Teresa Eagle, Dean of the College of Education and Professional Development at Marshall told MetroNews she felt the room of around 10 leaders from the campus expressed the need for the next president to value the South Charleston location.
“We feel like we have a valuable location, faculty, staff, and wonderful opportunities for the university that have not always been recognized. I think that was the primary issue that we wanted to see brought to the forefront,” she said.
The representatives from Academic Search posed two questions to the room, which met for around one hour, including what they wanted to see in a president and what did they see as major agenda items for the next president.
The group quickly agreed that they want the next president to value the South Charleston campus, Mid-Ohio Valley Center and graduate education paired with online learning, which has become the center of learning in the Kanawha County facility.
Eagle said the South Charleston campus at one point was a hub for in-person learning, seeing the parking lots full on weeknights daily and nearly 3,000 students per week. She admitted it’s not like that anymore but it’s not because of lack of students, just a change of course in graduate education style — primarily happening online.
Eagle said the South Charleston campus has potential for growth in the future in reach and convenience for students. She did not rule out the possibility of attempting to attract more first-year students back to the campus for undergraduate studies.
“Whether it’s an undergraduate program here or something else I can’t imagine, I would like for somebody to look at that and say here’s a great idea, let us try this. See what we can do to make good use of our facilities and faculty,” Eagle said.
Eagle added that people on the South Charleston campus are used to “being out front” with research and “looking beyond the walls,” but there is a struggle right now with COVID-19 playing a role. She credited Gilbert with leading the university through the pandemic, saying for the last year and a half the campus has been in survival mode and not in a mode to move forward with issues.
She said a lot of lessons have been learned and continue to be learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. Marshall needs a strong leader as higher education works its way out of the pandemic fully when Gilbert leaves at the end of the upcoming school year, Eagle said.
“I think this is the perfect opportunity for someone with a vision to come in, look at the university’s strengths and where we are, and take us in a direction that won’t neglect what Marshall is all about and has been. That person makes it able for us to go forward into the future,” she said.
Innovator and visionary were two other qualities described by the room as what is needed in the next president. Eagle said there is no going backward on the South Charleston campus because online courses are here to stay.
“We need to be able to take what we have and move it forward. So I think someone with a vision for ‘this is what we want this campus to be in the next five or ten years’ would be incredibly valuable to this campus,” she said.
Following the meeting with directors on campus, the search committee met with the Graduate Council and then the students and faculty from the campus and Mid-Ohio Valley Center.
According to the presidential search page on Marshall’s website, there are three listening sessions remaining in late August before the process takes another step.
On Sept. 6, the search committee plans to begin the review of applicants and give finalist recommendations to the board’s executive committee on Sept. 30, according to the tentative timeline. On-campus interviews are planned for October with a tentative date of October 28 to announce a new president.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Production at the former Mylan pharmaceutical plant in Morgantown has ceased, but efforts to save the plant and 1,400 jobs have not, according to Gov. Jim Justice.
During the live coronavirus briefing Wednesday, Justice said multiple efforts are ongoing to find a company to operate the facility.
“We’re not ready to quit,” Justice said. “We’re not ready to lay down our pens. We continue to work like crazy to try to help.”
The plant, operating under the drug company Viatris, officially closed last Saturday. Viatris first announced the closing last December as part of cost-cutting plans.
Justice expressed disappointment Wednesday that efforts to to get federal help to keep the plant open have thus far been fruitless.
“I think it’s pitiful, pitiful, absolutely pitiful that our federal government at this time, with something as critical as pharmaceuticals are to our citizens, is just deciding to sit on the sideline and let this catastrophe happen.”
He said multiple state and federal elected officials have written letters to the Biden-Harris administration and to Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Jen Easterly about using the plant as part of the nation’s efforts to battle the pandemic.
For 56 years the plant produced everything from supplements to a variety of medications. The demand for those products will still be met, but likely from an off-shore location creating security and supply chain concerns.
“You’ve got a situation where a plant was producing pharmaceuticals that were the best, of the best, of the best, of the best,” Justice said. “Now we’re going to farm that out to India where the dependability is marginal at best.”
Justice said he has been working with First District Congressman David McKinley on a dedicated bill that would specifically target keeping plant in operation. Justice said McKinley is facing opposition among his peers and has considered including the proposal with other legislation.
Justice encourages people to contact the congressman to express support for the effort.
“They’re trying to tag it along to other bills and maybe that’s the only way to do it,” Justice said. “He needs your help, we need your help, we need everybody’s help.”
The plant is officially in the process of being dismantled, but Justice said his team continue conversations with possible suitors.
“There’s the potential of other things going on that I can’t disclose to you. There are conversations going on right now that could solve this riddle,” he said.
FAIRLEA, W.Va. — The State Fair of West Virginia in Greenbrier County is right around the corner and the West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVDA) is prepping to play a large role.
State Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt appeared on Wednesday’s 580-LIVE on 580-WCHS to speak about the event August 12 to 21 in Fairlea. He said there remains concern about the COVID-19 virus but the fair will be a safe environment.
“People are concerned about what is going on with COVID and all. Remember, most of the activities are outdoors. You can feel safe and come out to enjoy the fair,” Leonhardt said.
In 2020, COVID-19 forced the cancelation of the State Fair for the first time since World War II. Back this year, the WVDA will be hosting the West Virginia Grown Country Store at the Gus R. Douglas Agriculture Annex Building.
According to the WVDA, the store will be open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and feature more than 40 West Virginia vendors and their locally grown and produced products. In addition, the store will host product samplings, wine tastings and a maple cotton candy machine run by the West Virginia Maple Syrup Producers Association.
There is also livestock exhibition as the WVDA Animal Health staff are available, throughout the State Fair of West Virginia, to conduct entrance examinations of all animals for signs of contagious or communicable diseases. According to the WVDA, staff will ensure proper testing and paperwork procedures are met for out-of-state entrants. WVDA Animal Health will be available at their checkpoint trailer located near the livestock gate entrance.
There will also be a poultry building, information on the West Virginia Dairy Programs and hemp products. Produce Safety & West Virginia Farmers Markets Booth will also be hosted by the WVDA and open.
Special events by the WVDA include Women in Agriculture Reception, August 15, at 11:30 a.m., Farm Heritage Award Luncheon, August 16, Noon, Governor’s Day, August 19, and Military Appreciation Day, August 19. There is a 15% discount to military personnel at WVDA Country Store.
Leonhardt said the fair is a lot of fun for the agriculture community.
“Come down, pet some of the animals, talk to the local farmers, walk through the barns that are open for people to see. It’s a great learning experience with so many opportunities,” he said.
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WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Hurricane’s Philip Reale established himself as one of West Virginia’s top amateur golfers long ago. He now has the state’s top amateur prize in hand and it was earned in resounding fashion. Reale shot a final round 65 to win the 102nd West Virginia Amateur by 9 shots at 10-under par.
“I didn’t even realize I shot 65 until I was done,” Reale said. “I was nervous to start the day. I got the first putt to go, hit the first good shot, loosened up a little bit and started hitting it really well toward the end. I just played good, safe golf coming down the stretch. And I kept putting well, which was the bread and butter all week.”
Reale opened the day with a one-shot lead over former WVU and Marshall golfer Chris Williams. The 37-year-old held that single stroke lead through five holes despite a pair of bogeys. Reale says he received a pep talk from his three-year-old daughter after a bogey in the fourth hole.
“She said, ‘I love you daddy and hit it in the hole’. And I did.”
Reale posted back-to-back birdies on the sixth and seventh holes, building a lead that nobody would threaten on the back nine.
“I knew I was 3-up at the turn. After the birdie on 12, I knew it was starting to get to the point where if I made pars, I was going to have a good look at it.”
Reale, a Gilmer County High School and East Carolina University graduate, also made lengthy birdie putts on 15 and 18. Despite the large lead, Reale stayed aggressive. He made six birdies over the final fourteen holes.
“We came down 16 and 17 and we talked about maybe laying up. No, we will just stick with what got us here, just hitting solid shots and being committed to what we were doing. That was the big thing this week, staying committed to every single shot.
“It started really sinking in after hitting the green on 18. I have no idea how that last putt went in. It was all I could do to pull the putter back.”
Reale was even par through the first two rounds, but shot 5-under in each of the final two rounds on The Meadows and The Old White.
“65-65 on the ‘weekend’ here is awesome. I am just thrilled to death.”
Reale is the 39th state amateur champion and he joins his younger brother Anthony with his name on the William C. Campbell Trophy. Anthony won the 2007 championship.
Bridgeport’s Hudson Chandler (-1) was the only other player to break par Wednesday on the Old White. He finished as the runner-up. South Charleston’s Joseph Kalaskey (even par) finished third. Chris Williams and defending champion Alex Easthom tied for fourth at 1-over.
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MINERAL WELLS, W.Va. — The weigh station along Interstate 77 in Wood County now features the most state of the art equipment available in the nation to monitor commercial motor vehicle traffic in West Virginia.
The station was built and maintained by the West Virginia Division of Highways, but is operated by the West Virginia Public Service Commission. Commission Chairman Charlotte Lane was on hand for Wednesday’s ribbon cutting.
“This will help us keep our road safe,” she said.
The facility was recently upgraded to feature the latest in scanning and weight detection technology. The operation is now equipped with Intelligent Imaging System’s Smart Roadside and Automated Thermal Inspection Systems (ATIS), which are the most comprehensive roadside safety platforms available for commercial vehicle enforcement. Smart Roadside will streamline roadside operations and expand E-Screening capabilities through DOT readers, license plate readers and thermal imaging technology.
The operator is provided with a full suite of information on the driver, the company, and any outstanding violations or owed fees and payments between he truck leaving the highway and pulling onto the scales.
“This equipment will automatically screen commercial vehicles for failing breaks, wheeling bearing failures, loose wheels and flat tires with 90 percent detection rates,” Lane explained.
Should a problem be detected, the truck can quickly be halted and taken out of service while PSC personnel consult with the driver or his employer to work the any problems noticed.
The speed of the equipment will also create a much easier process for those operating legally.
“Because it’s automated, it will reduce weigh station congestion and easing the way for safe and legal carriers,” she said.
“The Division of Transportation is excited about the opportunity to work with the Public Service Commission in modernizing the weigh stations at Mineral Wells,” said Greg Bailey, Chief Engineer of Operations for WVDOT. “This will greatly enhance our ability to provide proper weight enforcement, while improving our ability to move freight in a safe and speedy manner, both for consumers and freight haulers.”
The upgrades at Mineral Wells have been in the works for the past three years. The state has already upgraded the equipment on both sides of the Winfield weigh station on I-64 as well.
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — John R. Raese, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the West Virginia Radio Corporation, announced Wednesday that George Pelletier has been named president and CEO effective Aug. 16.
“After an extensive search, George Pelletier was the clear choice to lead West Virginia Radio Corporation into the future,” Raese said in a news release. “Given his extensive background and experience in smaller and medium markets, we knew right away that George was the right person for this very important position in our company.”
Pelletier said he was excited about the opportunity.
“I look forward to working closely with the staff and continuing the great service these radio properties provide to their local communities,” Pelletier said.
Pelletier, who will replace longtime WVRC president and CEO Dale Miller, has over 37 years of experience in radio, radio networks and digital platforms. Most recently Pelletier has served as regional president of Alpha Media, overseeing 28 of Alpha’s 42 markets. Prior to Alpha, he served as the COO of Digity, which was acquired by Alpha in 2016.
Pelletier served on the Radio Advertising Bureau’s Small Market Advisory Committee 2000-2005 and as chairman from 2003-2005.
Pelletier has been married for 37 years to his wife Katie and they have three grown children. Pelletier’s interests include golf, fishing and hunting.
Miller, 69, announced his retirement Tuesday after more than 44 years with WVRC.
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BUFFALO, W.Va. — Elderly and shut-in individuals in Putnam County who depend on the Putnam Aging program for rides will get a boost from a donation to the program.
Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia and West Virginia AARP handed over the keys to a 2021 Toyota Sienna van to Putnam Aging Director Jenni Sutherland Wednesday.
“We have not received a new vehicle in several years. Many of our vehicles are over 100,000 miles, they are frequently in the shop for maintenance, and we’re having to cancel people’s appointments because we go to start the van in the morning and it doesn’t start,” Sutherland said.
The donated automobile will become part of the six vans already in the organization’s fleet, but one is in and out of the shop regularly and another has been broken down for two years. According to Sutherland, two of the remaining four vans are dedicated to dialysis and cancer treatment patients.
“This vehicle is really our star vehicle now to help us get to these folks,” she said.
The service provided by Putnam Aging is critical since Putnam County has no public bus system or regular taxi services.
“Folks that don’t drive themselves are often stranded at home and unable to access essential items, medicine, or vaccinations,” she explained.
The new van is also a hybrid vehicle which Sutherland said will be a huge boost to their budget.
“We are seeing a tremendous savings in gasoline. We see lots of hybrids in our future. Our fuel costs are insane with some of our large, outdated vans,” she explained.
“Through mobility we can improve access to vaccines and enable organizations to reach hundreds of thousands of people across the country,” said Barry Pearson, general manager of administration at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, West Virginia. “By collaborating with AARP and additional community partners, we’re able to extend resources to organizations that have an intricate knowledge of the communities’ specific needs, coming together to make the strongest impact.”
“AARP is proud of the role we have played in helping older Americans navigate the health and economic challenges of this pandemic,” said Gaylene Miller, AARP West Virginia State Director. “Strong community-based service providers like Putnam Aging are critical to supporting older West Virginians living at home, and the family caregivers helping them to remain there. This collaboration with Toyota will make an important difference in these efforts.”
As a new school year approaches while concerns about the delta variant of covid-19 are on the rise, Gov. Jim Justice and his advisers say decisions about facial coverings in classrooms will be decided at the local level.
“We established ourselves to where local folks are going to make local decisions,” Justice said today. “We’re going to listen to the recommendations from our education folks and we’re going to listen to the recommendations from our medical panel and our medical community.
“I’ve said over and over, right now I am not ready whatsoever that we issue a mandate that we wear masks in our middle schools or any of our schools right now. I’m going to leave a tremendous amount of that decision to the locals because they know best.”
The governor was joined at today’s regular briefing about the state’s pandemic response by state schools Superintendent Clayton Burch and Bernie Dolan, the executive director of the Secondary School Activities Commission.
They described a steady-as-she goes approach to returning to school activities, learning from the experiences of the past year. “First and foremost, we’re starting school in person,” Burch said.
Burch described continued emphasis on mitigation, as well as the continuation of contact tracing. But he, too, said mask decisions would be local.
“If you feel you need it, wear a mask,” Burch said. “But really the local superintendents will be looking at that individually for their counties.”
There are some incentives for students to be vaccinated or to opt in for facial coverings, though.
During a later presentation of School Recovery & Guidance for the coming year, Burch noted that students who are vaccinated would not need to isolate if they are identified in a contact tracing effort for covid exposure.
Similarly, students wearing masks would not be sent home to isolate if they are determined to be near someone with covid.
Kanawha County, the state’s largest school system, decided earlier this week to require masks for elementary school students but to make facial coverings optional for students in grades 6 and up.
At today’s later briefing led by state school officials, Burch alluded to how disruptive the past year has been for students.
“The more time they were away from their school and the more time they were away from their teachers the more we saw devastating effects,” he said.
He said this year’s emphasis is to return to school five days a week under the guidance of teachers. “We’re going to do everything we can to support our teachers and students as we come back,” Burch said.
All of today’s speakers emphasized vaccination. Residents ages 12 and above are eligible for vaccination.
“The absolute message our coaches and teachers and parents should be telling our kids is if you don’t want an interruption in our sports programs and everything else, you’ve got to get vaccinated,” Justice said.
Of West Virginia’s vaccine-eligible population, just 56.7 percent are fully vaccinated. State statistics show that younger age groups tend to have the lowest participation in vaccination.
Despite both dire warnings and the possibility of prizes, West Virginia’s vaccination rate has plateaued in recent weeks.
“We know that full vaccination is by far the most protective intervention that we have,” West Virginia coronavirus response coordinator Clay Marsh said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
Meanwhile, covid numbers have been going up.
The state registered 2,848 cases today. Two counties — Marshall and Wyoming — have turned red on the state’s color coded map, indicating the highest levels of covid.
Hospitalizations from covid-19, cases requiring the intensive care unit and covid patients requiring a ventilator have all been going up.
The governor concluded today’s briefing by exhorting more people to seek out vaccination.
“Get vaccinated everybody, please.”
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Lottery players across West Virginia will have another chance at winning a major jackpot prize as Powerball announces a third weekly drawing to the schedule.
A Monday drawing will be added to the weekly lineup beginning Aug. 23 at 10:59 p.m. The new drawing joins current drawings held on Wednesday and Saturday of each week.
“Players have talked to us over the years and say they want to see jackpots grow faster and grow larger, so adding this third day a week drawing will make that happen,” said state Lottery Director John Myers.
Powerball tickets remain at $2 per play with this change. Players will continue to choose five numbers ranging from 1 to 69 and one Powerball number from 1 to 26. The Power Play add-on feature remains at an additional $1 per play to multiply non-jackpot prizes.
Myers said the additional day has nothing to do with the COVID-19 pandemic, but they have continued to experience “jackpot fatigue.”
“The normal players are playing all the time, but other people just play occasionally when the jackpot gets big. What used to be $100 million now is almost $300 million before we start seeing those other players come out,” Myers said.
West Virginia will opt out of a new Double Play game, also available on Aug. 23. It gives players a chance to win a top prize of $10 million. There are 13 state that are offering Double Play including Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Washington.
Myers said they could add Double Play at a later time.
“There is one state that requires you to buy the Double Play with the Powerball ticket which would make it a $3 ticket, but we’re not doing that,” he said.
West Virginia ticket sales from the third weekly drawing will contribute to funding vital public programs and services through the state Lottery, Myers said.
“The sale of a lottery ticket goes to three main things and that’s education, senior citizens and tourism here in the state West Virginia,” he said.