Kanawha Electric Closes

West Virginia repair and machine shop closing after 80 years

Kanawha Electric & Machine Co., of Charleston, W.V., announced last Thursday it will close its doors after 80 years of service. The business had been a maintenance stalwart, specializing in mining equipment but repairing motors of all kinds since 1937. It will now be forced to layoff 14 employees.

The Kanawha closure made national headlines almost immediately. In more ways than one, this was deserved attention—the company had an 80-year track record of excellence that included doing major repairs for the Hoover Dam into 2017—for a maintenance business right in the geographical (and political) crosshairs of America.

However, with the utmost sensitivity to Kanawha’s closing of the books (we lament their loss personally, as they were a subscriber of ours) EA couldn’t help but notice how those aforementioned factors overshadow a trend that we see constantly happening over the past decade. A trend that is so common in the monthly news for the industry we cover that these shutdowns come as no surprise. Especially for independent, family-owned, and smaller operations that thrived on maintenance and local repairs.

Kanawha’s situation reflects a number of these things; it only magnetized more eyes last Thursday because it is in a contentious state and are closely connected to the coal market. More than one article and accompanied commentary portrayed this as a microcosm of the battles of the energy industry. The truth of West Virginia’s (especially the southern part of the state) economic downturn is demoralizing and hard to bear. It is, without doubt, a derivation of the coal industry’s decline.

One point that should be emphasized is that renewable energy is not entirely to blame for this. It has been the a longtime scapegoat for coal-related sufferings. Natural gas is the bigger culprit. It is clearly useful in its own right—in a capacity for powering plants devoted to a number of resources—and this would explain a reluctance to see it held responsible. But the charts show it, and there have been plenty:

 

U.S. Electric Power Generation Shares of Coal vs. Natural Gas, 1973 to 2016.—Mark Perry/EIA image

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