This is great, and by great, fucking horrible:
As coal mining has collapsed across Appalachia, residents in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia have been socked with a double whammy—crippling electric bills to go along with a declining economy.
The pain in a region once known for cheap power has been felt in homes, businesses, schools and even at volunteer fire departments.
The problem of rising power bills has many causes.
– Mines and other businesses have shut down and people have moved away—mining jobs are off 70 percent since 2010—so utilities are selling less power and spreading their fixed costs across fewer customers.
– Electricity customers are shouldering the costs of shuttering old coal-burning power plants and cleaning up the toxic messes they leave behind.
– And experts say it hasn’t helped that utilities in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia have continued to invest in burning coal.
“They’re doubling down on coal at a time when coal is not competitive,” said James M. Van Nostrand, a professor at the West Virginia University College of Law with decades of experience in the energy field. “It’s really tragic.”
And the only people making out like this are wealthy out of state interests just squeezing every last penny they can out of a dead industry and a region they are killing. Then you have this:
For a little while earlier this year, it seemed as though 87-year-old Rosie Thomas and her neighbors in the small town of Gainesville, Va., had beaten Amazon. Virginia’s largest utility, Dominion Energy Inc., had planned to run an aboveground power line straight through a Civil War battlefield—and Thomas’s property—to reach a nearby data center run by an Amazon.com Inc. subsidiary. After three years of petitions and protests in front of the gated data center, skirmishes punctuated by barking dogs and shooing police, Dominion agreed to bury that part of the line along a nearby highway, at an estimated cost of $172 million.
Within a month, however, the utility and state legislators had passed on the cost to Thomas and her fellow Virginians. The state’s House of Delegates approved Dominion’s proposal to raise the money needed for the Amazon line with an as-yet-unannounced monthly fee. “Lord, have mercy,” Thomas said when a neighbor gave her the news this spring in the gravel driveway of her one-story clapboard home, where she was watching the metal disk spin inside the electricity meter on the side of the house. She was already struggling to pay her monthly $170. Leaning forgotten against Thomas’s mailbox was an old protest sign that read “UNPLUG Amazon Extension Cord.” It no longer felt like a trophy.
This sort of thing is becoming a pattern. Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud computing business, is its fastest-growing and most profitable division, but it comes with a lot of upfront infrastructure costs and ongoing expenses, the biggest of which is electricity. Over the past two years, Amazon has almost doubled the size of its physical footprint worldwide, to 254 million square feet, including dozens of new data centers with vast fields of servers running 24/7. In at least two states, it’s also negotiated with utilities and politicians to stick other people with the bills, piling untold millions of dollars on top of the estimated $1.2 billion in state and municipal tax incentives the company has received over the past decade.
Amazon’s owner, Jeff Bezos, is the richest man in the world.
We’re also easing out of the summer months into winter, and we can expect the annual Republican assault on heating assistance to take over.
I find myself thinking about this story a lot, lately:
I have some ideas.