It’s a good thing Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia all have West Virginia nearby or else they would run low on electricity.
All of those states consume more electricity than they produce, while West Virginia is one of the nation’s leading exporters of electricity, according to data compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Only California — the state where the electricity transmission infrastructure is so deficient it sparks devastating wildfires and where officials want to increase the use of electric vehicles — imports more electricity than Ohio.
“Ohio’s large population, heavily industrial economy, and wide seasonal temperature variation create high electricity demand, which at times exceeds in-state generation,” the EIA said in a release issued Tuesday.
It should be noted here that Ohio has shifted its electricity production away from coal and toward gas and solar. Ohio 7 and U.S. 52 along the Ohio River are turning into a place of retired coal-fired power plants. On the Ohio side alone, at least five have been retired or had significant cutbacks in output and two are scheduled for retirement before the end of this decade. On the West Virginia side, at least two have been retired and one — the Pleasants Power Station in Pleasants County — has an uncertain future.
Meanwhile, since the last coal-fired plant along this part of the Ohio went into operation — Mountaineer, in Mason County, in 1980 — we’ve seen at least one large gas-fired power plant built in Lawrence County, Ohio, and five hydroelectric plants built at Ohio River dams. Plus, Wayne County has added two small gas-fired peaker plants.
West Virginia exports about 30% of the electricity it produces, ranking it third behind Vermont and Wyoming and ahead of North Dakota and Montana.
“Four of the five largest exporters, by percentage of total supply, produced more than half of their in-state electricity from coal, ranging from 51% in Montana to 91% in West Virginia. Wyoming is the nation’s largest coal-producing state; West Virginia, Montana, and North Dakota are also major coal producers,” the EIA said, later adding that Vermont generates most of its electricity from hydropower and other renewable sources.
In terms of total amount of electricity exported from one state to another, Pennsylvania leads that group, followed by Alabama, Illinois, Arizona and West Virginia. Pennsylvania produces about 43% of its electricity from natural gas and about 36% from nuclear sources, according to the EIA.
One thing not noted in the EIA release is that the states that are most self-consciously green are those that rely on other states to produce their power.
The consumers of electricity are separated from its production and so they might not have the same degree of knowledge of what it takes to generate and distribute power that people in energy-exporting states do.
In terms of importance to the rest of the nation, electricity is one of West Virginia’s leading exports, although few people appear to recognize that fact. Take away West Virginia’s coal-fired plants, and our neighboring states would have to figure out how to keep their lights on.
It’s one of those unpleasant truths they will have to live with until they develop alternative sources of electricity. Or until West Virginia does so it can keep its place atop the regional power grid as the nation moves away from burning coal to produce electricity.