Economic Development was the topic of conversation at the Ripley Rotary meeting at Sorella Ristorante on Wednesday, June 26.

Appalachian Power External Affairs director for West Virginia Steven Stewart, also a lobbyist at the capital for AEP, and Senior Project Outreach Specialist George Porter, discussed the economic development plans for the Mason and Jackson County areas.

“Everybody knows over the last 10 years the electric rates have darn near doubled in the state, it’s not just here in West Virginia, it’s nationwide,” Stewart said. “The only way to get those rates to go in the right direction, which is down, is through growth and economic development.”

Stewart discussed two bills the house has been working on that will lead to the economic development of new business in the area. The first of which is the West Virginia Business Site Ready Program bill.

Stewart said businesses come in, find a piece of land they like, but then find out it will take years to get the infrastructure ready in order to start building, and that is longer than they want to wait, so they decide to go somewhere else.

This bill will allow the development office to work with utilities and the state to get infrastructure built into sites to make them “shovel ready” and more attractive to new businesses.

The second bill is a bill that would allow utilities to do a feasibility study to do some broadband middle mile building in unserved or unserved areas of the state.

“We have kids that go to the local McDonald’s and sit and do their homework because they don’t have access to internet at home,” Stewart said.

The electric companies would install the broadband fiber into the power zone on the utility poles and then lease the service back to the last mile providers allowing them to get it out to their customers.

The house recently passed both bills.

Following Stewart was Porter who said there are three departments to AEP, generation, transmission, and distribution.

Porter works in the transmission department and covers West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee for AEP territories. He said his department is responsible for getting the power from the generation plants to their distribution facilities and then distribution gets the power into the homes.

AEP distribution poles are 40-50 feet tall, but the transmission poles range from 80-100 feet and are generally seen where the lines cross a highway or a river.

Porter said his job, when a new transmission project is getting ready to begin, is to go to people’s homes and let the homeowners know where they are needing to install a pole on their land.

“It’s an inconvenience, but a necessity,” Porter said. “It is my job to ease that transition.”

Three major reasons why AEP would do a transmission project would be for a customer starting a new business, second reason would be to upgrade or replace lines that are not working properly, and the third is replace lines installed in the 1920’s through 1950’s that are old and weathered.

A project that is currently going on is the Leon to Ripley project where 14 miles of transmission lines were built in Jackson County and another 14 in Mason County - at a cost of $32 million dollars. Steel structures were built to replace the old wooden ones and a new sub-station was built as well.

This project will be completed in the fall. Porter said once the project is complete, AEP will go back in and complete restoration efforts for landlords and fix any issues that may have occurred; such as, torn up yards and knocked down fencing.

“We try to work with landowners and if we can’t, we always try to give you a reason why not, whether it be a slip issue or whatever,” Porter said.

The next big project in the works is the Ravenswood Area Improvement project. AEP will rebuild 30 miles of transmission lines in Jackson and Mason counties at a cost of $60 million. It is expected to be completed around the end of 2021.

In other business:

• Denise Toler reported that the Jackson General Hospital Foundation Golf Classic was a success with 35 teams participating.

• September 7 will be the JGH Ford Drive. The hospital will receive $20 per vehicle driven.