Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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Nov. 17

The Journal on President-elect Joe Biden's energy agenda:

Joe Biden is not yet president-elect officially, but it seems clear he will be the nation’s next chief executive. The sooner he clarifies his agenda — especially regarding energy — the better.

It is probably no coincidence that within days of the election, some energy companies began revealing their own plans.

Two major firms, American Electric Power and First Energy, have revealed plans to reduce generation using fossil fuels. AEP says it will eliminate 1,633 megawatts of coal-fueled generation by the end of 2028. First Energy plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30%, by 2030.

That will affect electricity prices in areas served by the companies adversely. Many Americans already are paying more for power than we did just a few years ago, because of the move away from coal-fired generating stations.

How will Biden address electric generation? Will he use executive orders to make mining and use of coal even less attractive?

Also of concern in our area is Biden’s stance on natural gas and petroleum production. Will he, as critics warned, “ban fracking?”

Hydraulic fracturing of gas and oil wells has been the reason why Americans have become largely self-reliant for energy. It also has become a key facet of the economies in some states.

Banning — or even placing new limits on fracking — would inflict drastic harm on both our states. It also would force gas and gasoline prices up nationally.

Biden may not have formulated a detailed energy strategy. During the election campaign, he clearly wanted to appeal to his base voters, many of whom favor harsh steps against fossil fuels such as those suggested in the “New Green Deal.” At the same time, Biden disavowed warnings he would ban fracking, in order to persuade more conservative voters to back him.

What, however, are his post-election plans? We don’t know. We hope Biden will adopt a rational energy policy. One way or another, however, the sooner we know what he plans, the better.

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Nov. 17

The Charleston Gazette-Mail on the COVID-19 vaccines being developed by Pfizer and Moderna:

Last week, the pharmaceutical firm Pfizer announced that it had a COVID-19 vaccine that was shown to be 90% effective in trials. Moderna announced this week that its vaccine, so far, has shown to be 95% effective.

This is wonderful news, as coronavirus cases surpassed 11 million in the United States and deaths exceeded 247,000 as of Tuesday morning. It’s also good news for West Virginia, where case numbers have exploded in recent weeks. As of Tuesday, there were more than 10,700 active cases in the state, and 13 more deaths brought the total number of COVID-19 fatalities to 598.

Coronavirus hospitalizations have hit record highs in the Mountain State, and the color-coded Department of Health and Human Resources map also showed a significant shift Tuesday, with 17 counties in high-risk orange and four in highest-risk red, while only 10 counties were at green, the lowest level for outbreaks or risk of spread.

More testing has contributed to higher case counts in West Virginia, but public health officials also have said the virus is simply spreading at a higher rate through community contact.

Two vaccines with effective rates above 90% are more than U.S. public health authorities had hoped for. But West Virginians, along with everyone else in the country, will have to remain vigilant and patient before life can return to normal.

Pfizer and Moderna have yet to finish their clinical trials, expected to wrap up next month. After that, the vaccines will have to get emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. At that point, it is expected that both companies would have enough of their vaccines on hand to inoculate 20 million people, combined, according to a story in The Washington Post. Those doses will go to health care workers and emergency responders. After that, the most at-risk — the elderly and those with serious underlying health conditions — would be prioritized. Then, the vaccine would be administered to the general public.

Both companies still have to figure out how to produce hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccines, and how to effectively distribute them. If all goes well, according to U.S. health officials, the vaccine should be available to the general public by April — about five months from now and a little more than a year since many states began short-term lockdowns and school and event cancellations after the pandemic first hit.

Hope is on the horizon, but it’s more important than ever for West Virginians to wear masks, practice social distancing and make good decisions about things like social or church gatherings and travel. If you can’t live with government rules and guidelines about things like masks, exercise your right to stay home.

Many people are mentally exhausted and frayed from eight months of living with this pandemic. COVID-19 will make more West Virginians sick and, unfortunately, more will die before April 2021. But West Virginians can minimize the impact by using the tools at their disposal until the vaccines arrive.

It works best if everyone can come together and acknowledge that today’s inconvenience is keeping others healthy and alive for tomorrow. West Virginia will get through this, if its people can cooperate and do what’s best, not only for themselves, but for their family, friends and neighbors.

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Nov. 15

The Herald-Dispatch on an electric utility company announcing its goal to become carbon neutral by 2050 and West Virginia's energy future:

FirstEnergy is the utility company that provides electricity to most of northern West Virginia. For the most part, its service territory is what you might call the area north of U.S. 50.

Last week, FirstEnergy announced it is preparing to transition away from coal-fired power in West Virginia by 2050 and produce more of its power from renewable sources.

It’s not only that FirstEnergy has seen the light and is transitioning to green power generation. It’s also a signal that electric utilities have little or no incentive to maintain their investment in coal-fired plants.

Many of those plants will need millions if not billions of dollars of improvements to keep them running past 2050. No new coal-fired plants are being planned anywhere in the United States, so whatever coal-based power we will have in 30 years will come from the existing fleet — or what’s left of it.

At present, coal-based electricity is less competitive economically than that based on natural gas. Politically, it’s undesirable except in coal-producing regions.

American Electric Power, the parent company of Appalachian Power, is also moving its generating fleet away from coal and toward renewables.

These announcements should serve as a warning to West Virginia’s leaders in government, business, education and elsewhere that change is coming to some counties. Should coal-fired power be a thing of the past by 2050, that gives West Virginia only 30 years to prepare for what this will mean for tax-supported entities such as schools and public safety and what it will mean for the jobs picture in the affected counties.

It’s not like this should be a surprise. People in the power industry have been talking about this for years. But politicians barely mention it. As with deferred maintenance on a house, if problems are not anticipated and dealt with early, they become more serious and more expensive later. That’s what’s happening here with coal and power generation and what their loss would mean in Putnam County, Mason County and elsewhere.

There is always the possibility that the coal plants will remain open. AEP shed much of its carbon dioxide output by selling the Gavin plant near Cheshire, Ohio, a few years ago. The plant remains in operation and continues to produce electricity for Ohio, but its carbon impact is no longer AEP’s direct concern. That leaves open the possibility that Amos, Mountaineer and other coal-fired plants could remain in production past 2050 but under different ownership. That carries its own set of benefits and problems, however.

The bottom line is that this is a situation that must be faced and dealt with now.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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