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Wood County officials offer moral support to ‘Reimagine Appalachia’

Dawn Weidnel and Jean Ambrose of “Reimagine Appalachia” spoke before the Wood County Commission on Thursday to discuss support for efforts to have more federal money invested in this region for renewable energy development. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

PARKERSBURG — The Wood County Commission will sign a resolution next week in support of efforts by a regional organization to have more federal dollars invested in energy development in West Virginia and surrounding states.

Jean Ambrose and Dawn Weidnel, representing New Jobs Appalachia, appeared before the commision Thursday to talk about a new initiative, called “Reimagine Appalachia,” which is looking at changes in the energy economy. A number of those changes are happening in the coming years on the federal level, with financial support.

“A concern is that Appalachia is not getting its fair share,” Ambrose said. “In the energy economy, (West Virginia) has powered the nation, and we have not really reaped the benefits of being a resource extraction state.”

The Ohio River Valley, as important a watershed as it is, has not received the attention others have like the Colorado River or the Tennessee Valley.

“The idea here is we deserve that same level of attention,” Ambrose said. “If the current administration is making this a priority, then we have a number of years to argue for additional resources that frankly our region deserves for its many years of service to the nation.”

“Reimagine Appalachia” is a consortium of organizations across four states — West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky — which was formed to bring attention to a historically impoverished area.

Coal’s influence has been declining in recent years as natural gas and other means of generating power have taken the forefront, including renewable sources of energy like solar.

Ambrose said she has solar panels on her home and has seen a big difference in her energy bills.

The potential to utilize the sun’s energy is great and seeing more interest as the economics are steering to more investment in renewables, Ambrose said.

“It doesn’t mean we stop doing other things that we are doing,” she said. “We want to capture those jobs of the future.

“They are going to be good jobs with a full range of technical needs that are required. They would create a ladder of opportunity for our young people to raise families and be able to stay here.”

An economic study the group did with the University of Massachusetts shows 41,000 jobs could come to or be created in West Virginia over the next 10 years in modernizing West Virginia’s electrical grid and other innovations in transportation and manufacturing,

Commission President Blair Couch said areas have been underfunded in reclaiming former coal-mining operations in parts of the state, which could help with what is being proposed by “Reimagine Appalachia.” Efforts by federal officials are looking into doing things like that, he said.

Commissioner Jimmy Colombo said the Ohio River has been engineered to cut down on flooding and more could be done in terms of generating hydroelectric power. He said some windmill operations in West Virginia supply energy to Virginia but this state sees no benefit from them.

Ambrose believes there could be more opportunities for investment in that and other ways of generating energy that were not traditionally considered in this region.

“It is hard to imagine something new when we have been doing the same thing for so long,” she said.

Ambrose said the resolution will not obligate the commission to providing any money directly, just support efforts to create new jobs here.

The commission will take it up Thursday, July 22.

Brett Dunlap can be reached at bdunlap@newsandsentinel.com

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