Appalachian Power chief looks to renewables

CHARLESTON — New Appalachian Power Co. President Chris Beam says the utility doesn’t plan to build coal plants anytime soon and that electricity from renewable energy sources is what potential business customers want.

Beam is a Wheeling native who understands the role of coal in West Virginia’s economy and culture. He said Appalachian Power still relies on large coal-fired plants, yet historic changes in the electric power industry are occurring nationwide.

“We know that coal is king in West Virginia and we aren’t naive to that,” Beam told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “We continue to burn that, and we will continue to burn that going forward.”

Beam recalled a meeting with Gov. Jim Justice, who asked that Appalachian Power burn more coal.

“Well, we don’t have any more coal plants,” Beam said. “We’re not going to build any more coal plants. That’s not going to happen.”

Instead, Beam said the company is working on plans to add to its wind-generation capacity in southern West Virginia.

“We think it makes a lot of sense,” Beam said. “There definitely is some ability to expand wind in West Virginia. There is no doubt about that.”

Appalachian Power currently uses coal for more than 60 percent of its electricity generation. By 2020, the company anticipates that to be down to about half.

Beam said potential power customers that Appalachian Power would like to lure to the state make it clear they want their electricity generated solely from renewable sources.

“At the end of the day, West Virginia may not require us to be clean, but our customers are,” Beam said. “So if we want to bring in those jobs, and those are good jobs, those are good-paying jobs that support our universities because they hire our engineers, they have requirements now, and we have to be mindful of what our customers want.”

Beam, 48, took over as president of Charleston-based Appalachian Power in early January. He replaced Charles Patton, who was promoted after more than six years to executive vice president of external affairs for parent company American Electric Power.

The company serves about 1 million customers in Southern West Virginia, Tennessee and Virginia.

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