In West Virginia, the war on coal has cast a long shadow over the state’s economy. And now a story of broken promises may be starting to again unfold. As Form Energy, a green energy pioneering company, establishes a presence in the state, the dream of redemption for West Virginia’s workforce remains elusive.
Generations of West Virginians once thrived in the coal industry, extracting the lifeblood of the nation. But as Washington DC’s war on coal rose – jobs evaporated, the state’s communities found themselves grappling with unemployment, shrinking opportunities, and now the relentless force of inflation – dragging many West Virginia families further into despair.
In December 2022, Form Energy made headlines by announcing a massive investment in Weirton, West Virginia—a region grappling with economic instability. The company pledged up to $760 million in investment, promising to create a minimum of 750 new full-time jobs. West Virginia Governor Jim Justice responded with an astounding $290 million in taxpayer incentives.
However, as Form Energy’s presence looms large, it appears that the promises made to West Virginians were hollow.
The core issue centers on Form Energy’s recruitment strategy. The company has chosen to look outside West Virginia, opting to begin their recruitment in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This decision leaves West Virginians, whose tax dollars are fueling Form Energy’s ambitions, feeling like strangers in their own redemption story.
The bitter irony lies in the fact that while West Virginians subsidize Form Energy’s project with over $300 million, the local workforce—skilled in resource extraction and manufacturing—is overlooked and underemployed.
The situation is nothing short of a moral obligation. It’s imperative to prioritize West Virginia workers and contractors in projects funded by their own tax dollars. This local workforce holds the expertise that could revive communities, alleviate unemployment, and reignite the hopes of a population grappling with the consequences of inflation.
As Form Energy prepares to begin construction in 2023 and launch iron-air battery production in 2024, the initial hope and optimism have given way to disappointment. West Virginians are left questioning the integrity of promises made in exchange for their support.
In the midst of West Virginia’s economic turmoil, organizations like Generation West Virginia and the Coalfield Development Corporation have emerged with promises of rejuvenating communities left reeling from the war on coal. Yet, as the dust settles, it becomes painfully clear that these well-intentioned initiatives may be missing the mark, leaving the average West Virginia coal miner disillusioned and doubting the true motives behind these programs.
Despite substantial federal tax dollars being allocated to facilitate these transitions, there seems to be a disconnect between lofty promises and tangible results. The coal miners, who have borne the brunt of the state’s economic downturn, feel that these initiatives are more focused on polishing their own image and pursuing political agendas rather than delivering on the promise of putting West Virginians back to work. The hope that these programs would provide a lifeline has waned, leaving communities yearning for genuine solutions.
The key issue lies in the lack of partnership and investment from companies like Form Energy, who are benefiting from taxpayer incentives to establish their operations in West Virginia. These organizations have a responsibility to engage with local initiatives, creating opportunities for the workforce that has long been sidelined. Without these partnerships, the promises of economic rejuvenation in West Virginia may continue to ring hollow, further deepening the frustration of those who had hoped for real change.
As the sun sets over West Virginia’s hills, the stark reality is that Form Energy’s investment, while touted as a lifeline, may have just the state’s workforce in the lurch. They watch as their tax dollars transform neighboring states, while their communities cling to a fading hope—a hope that, at some point, they might be at the forefront of an economic resurgence that remains as elusive as the clean energy dream that promised so much but, for them, delivered so little.