All gassed up, but no place to go

Much has been made of the fact that West Virginia sits atop some of the country’s most abundant natural gas fields, projected to be able to supply the resource for hundreds of years.

There is little doubt that the Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas fields could be an economic game-changer, one very much needed in the Mountain State.

But much as we’ve learned that the state is ill-prepared to court some of the industries that use the gas and its naturally occurring byproducts, we’ve also now been told that we’re lagging behind in another key use of the resource: Gas-fired power plants.

While nearby Ohio has built 19 such plants and Pennsylvania has 22, West Virginia has none, as in zero.

Now, there are plans for one in Moundsville. And another has been much talked about in Harrison County. But the plants — at least in West Virginia — take years of regulatory work before they become reality. And according to state officials, the one in Moundsville has run into at least one legal challenge.

Secretary of Commerce Woody Thrasher didn’t mince words when addressing members of the state House and Senate on why West Virginia is trailing neighboring states.

“I think it’s just perceived (by the power companies) that Ohio and Pennsylvania are the paths of least resistance for getting those facilities built,” Thrasher said. He noted that both of those states have less regulation and lower property taxes than West Virginia, State Journal Staff Writer Rusty Marks reported.

The news also further complicates Thrasher’s and other leaders’ efforts to recruit industries and other business to the state.

Because gas-fired plants will be more efficient and there is an abundant supply of fuel, the electricity generated in those states will be cheaper than what can be generated here with the more traditional coal-fired plants.

“If you don’t have competitive power rates, nobody who uses substantial power is going to come here,” Thrasher said.

It’s further disappointing to note that the trend towards higher utility rates has now seen West Virginia drop from the third or fourth cheapest state in the nation to the 29th or 30th — and more expensive than its neighbors.

This is again an example of how government has failed to protect citizens and, in turn, helped to cripple an economy that should be set for dramatic growth.

West Virginia’s tendency to overtax and overregulate has — and will continue to — cost the state and its residents dearly.

Thrasher has done a great job in exposing these challenges, and now it is up to Gov. Jim Justice and lawmakers to make the necessary changes.

It won’t be easy. And it will certainly require compromise and unity.

But West Virginians are growing weary of being one of the top energy fuel producing states but watching as the prosperity goes elsewhere while the utility bills grow higher.

It’s time for that to change.

This editorial was authored by John Miller, executive editor for the Clarksburg Exponent Telegram. Click here to read it on the publication's website.