Though it is less expensive to generate electricity with coal than with natural gas, power companies throughout the nation are shutting down coal-fired generating stations - and charging their customers more. That makes no sense.
Primarily because most generating stations serving West Virginians and Ohioans are fueled by coal, we pay much less than most Americans for our electricity. Appalachian Power, the Mountain State's largest electric utility, charges residential customers about 9.4 cents per kilowatt hour. The national average is 11.9 cents - about $360 a year more, based on average consumption rates.
But prices already are going up here. If President Barack Obama has his way, they will skyrocket.
Appalachian Power President and Chief Operating Officer Charles Patton told members of the Wheeling Rotary Club last week that his firm, like many other utilities, is closing some coal-fired generating units because they do not meet Environmental Protection Agency requirements. Most of the lost capacity will be replaced with natural gas units, Patton said.
That makes sense for customers, he added. Patton explained that building a new coal-fired power plant can cost about five and one-half times as much as a gas facility with similar capacity. The added cost is to meet EPA regulations.
Gas is relatively cheap now, Patton noted. But it still is a more expensive fuel than coal for power generation - and gas prices are expected to increase, while coal costs remain stable.
It would make sense for Appalachian Power and other utilities to keep coal-fired power plants that meet current EPA standards open, to hold down customers' electric bills. Patton said officials of his company, once almost entirely reliant on coal, would like to use that fuel for about 69 percent of generation.
Obama and the EPA seem determined to close every coal-fired power plant, however. The technology to meet the agency's proposed new rules does not exist. That could force utilities to close all their coal-fueled units.
That, in turn, would push customers' bills up dramatically, perhaps by hundreds of dollars a year.
Patton pointed out to Rotarians that while U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, blamed for climate change, are decreasing, those from many other nations are increasing. Attempting to control carbon emissions by closing U.S. coal-fired plants - which contribute only a small percentage of the global total - doesn't make sense.
Americans should pursue a rational climate change mitigation strategy, Patton said. But the Obama administration plan - forcing Americans to pay much more for electricity in exchange for a negligible reduction in climate change - is not reasonable.
The window of opportunity in which Congress can reverse the White House's crazy strategy is limited. Once utilities are forced to close all their coal-fired power plants, it will be too late to go back.
Lawmakers should stop Obama's irrational war on reasonably priced electricity - now.