Brad. D. Smith Moderates Fireside Chat With Bill Gates and Senator Joe Manchin

Brad D. Smith moderates a discussion with Bill Gates and Senator Joe Manchin

On January 9, 2023, Bill Gates, philanthropist and co-founder of Microsoft, visited Charleston, West Virginia to discuss the future of the energy industry in the state. While in Charleston, Gates joined West Virginia Senator, Joe Manchin, for a fireside chat on energy innovations. The chat was hosted at the Clay Center and was moderated by Marshall University President, Brad D. Smith. With a personal stake in the future of Appalachia, Brad brought a unique perspective as moderator to the discussion of West Virginia’s role in the future of energy. Gates’ interest in West Virginia falls in line with an economic shift that has been unfolding over the past year. Due to its available talent and the unparalleled resources, West Virginia is gaining traction as a favorable environment for businesses to flourish. In 2022, the state welcomed new economic development from industry leaders such as Nucor Corporation and GreenPower Motor Company. Fueling the state’s development is the support of numerous elected officials, such as Senator Manchin, who have aligned themselves on driving economic growth and stability.

From Coal to Clean Energy

With a theme of “America’s Energy Powerhouse. West Virginia’s Role in the Future of Energy,” the fireside chat focused on the Mountain State’s shift to clean energy. “There is a big transition happening,” said Gates of the increasing push for efficient batteries and safer nuclear production facilities. He also spoke on the unique advantages West Virginia offers the energy industry, including with the state’s abundance of natural gas.  

These advantages present the state with ways to move toward more eco-friendly energy sources while also bolstering the economy through job creation. “West Virginia has a proud history of always answering the call,” Brad said , referring to the jobs this energy transition will provide.

Brad and his wife Alys have personally worked to create opportunities for West Virginia’s residents through various organizations and initiatives, such as the Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative (OEDC). The OEDC supports cutting-edge programs aimed at bolstering the state’s economy, much like the possibilities that will be created through the energy transition. For a comprehensive overview of the work Brad and Alys are doing in West Virginia, visit

Bringing New Energy to Old Power Plants

In addition to the fireside chat, Gates toured the Kanawha River Plant in Glasgow with Senator Manchin. Once an Appalachian Power facility, the Kanawha River Plant site could potentially be used as a nuclear plant for TerraPower, a company innovating nuclear technologies, in the next five to ten years. Gates is an investor and founding member of TerraPower. The company has begun a similar project in Wyoming, slated to be completed in 2028. Although plans for the site in West Virginia have not yet been confirmed, communities like Glasgow hold numerous opportunities for the energy transition. 

After the tour, Manchin talked of Gates’ excitement for the community’s future saying, “I wanted to show him the opportunities. When we have a coal plant that times out, that usually means there’s nothing in the town to take its place. We have an opportunity now. He’s able to see first-hand. He was very excited about that.” 

Despite the challenges ahead of preparing and readying the site, the overall potential impact the transition could have on West Virginia’s communities is insurmountable. The jobs created could bring new life to sites like the Kanawha River Plant, revitalizing communities that once depended on power plants. Looking forward, West Virginia continues to welcome new possibilities to build a prosperous future. 

To watch a news segment recapping Gates’ visit and the fireside chat, click here.