Coal Is Still King In The Mountain State, But Renewables Gaining Ground

State Economy

The population of the “Mountain State,” West Virginia is approximately 1.77 million people[1]. West Virginia is the 40th most populated state in the United States.

In 2021, West Virginia’s economy was ranked 42nd in the United States in gross domestic product (GDP)[2]. The state’s economy is dependent on the coal, manufacturing, chemical, agricultural, and tourism industries[3].

Environment Policies

In 2009, West Virginia enacted a mandatory renewable energy standard, which required electric utilities with over 30,000 customers to sell 25% of the electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

In 2015, the state repealed the 2009 mandatory renewable energy standard. West Virginia is now one of only 13 states that has neither a renewable portfolio standard nor a goal[4].

In July 2021, state utilities[5] used coal (92.9 %), natural gas (4.0 %), and renewable energy (3.1 %) to generate electricity. Hydropower, wind, and solar are the primary types of renewable energy used to generate electricity in West Virginia.

West Virginia’s coal subsidies[6] contributes to the state’s below average cost of electricity. In July 2021, the average cost of residential electricity in West Virginia was 12.11 ¢ per kWh, compared to the national average of 13.90 ¢ per kWh.

Although coal is still king, West Virginia is beginning to make progress in the development of clean, green energy. Recent renewable energy projects in the state include:

  • 115 MW Wind Project – In January 2021, American renewable energy company, Clearway Energy commenced construction on the Black Rock Wind project in the northeastern region of the state. The project is scheduled to be commissioned by year-end 2021.
  • 80 MW Solar Project – In April 2021, Spanish renewable energy company, Opdenergy began work on a solar project at a site in the eastern region of the state. The project is scheduled to be commissioned by year-end 2022.
  • 55 MW Wind Project – In March 2021, Clearway Energy commenced the repowering of the Pinnacle wind project in Keyser County, which is located in the northeast region of the state. The project is scheduled to be completed by year-end 2021.

Conclusions

Coal was the fuel that powered the Industrial Revolution. The coal industry has been a major source of employment in the United States throughout the 20th century. However, employment in the coal industry in the United States has dramatically declined from over 850,000 jobs in 1920[7] to just 42,159 jobs in 2020[8]. Why?

  1. Automation – The primary reason for job losses in the coal industry is the replacement of miners with machines. Machines can’t demand better pay or safer working conditions.
  2. Economics – The cost to mine and transport coal has steadily risen. The cost to generate electricity ($/kWh) from coal-fueled power plants is over twice the cost of wind or solar without any government subsidies.
  3. Pollution – Coal ash, the product of coal burned in a power plant contains arsenic, mercury, and lead; which are toxic. In 2019, coal ash was reported to have leaked into the ground water around 241 coal-fired plants across America[9].
  4. Climate ChangeCoal generates 40% to 45% more greenhouse gases than natural gas. Governments and businesses around the world now recognize the threat of climate change.

Coal was first commercially mined in West Virginia [10] in 1810. Coal was initially used to fuel forges, furnaces, and steam engines for the railroad.

Coal is still a major component in the state’s economy. In 2020, 67.2 million tons of coal was produced from 135 mines in West Virginia[11].

Demand for coal continues to decline around the world due to irrefutable economic and environmental facts. West Virginia’s legislators continue to pursue financial incentives for the coal industry from the state and federal governments.

West Virginia has significant renewable energy potential, including wind, hydropower, and solar. The state has the renewable energy potential to become a major exporter of clean, green energy to other states.

The development of new wind, solar, and hydropower projects in West Virginia would more than offset the state’s 11,418 coal industry jobs[12] in 2020. However, West Virginia’s legislators have done little to support the development of renewable energy at the state or federal levels.

West Virginia’s legislators have failed to recognize that coal isn’t a renewable resource, and all the mines will close when they are no longer economic. Renewable energy industry offers job security, as long as the winds blows and the sun shines. Coal is still “King” in the Mountain State, but wind and solar are gaining ground

 Jack Kerfoot

Website – “Our Energy Conundrum”

www.jackkerfoot.com

 

[1] West Virginia Population 2021, World Population Review

[2] U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis

[3] Biggest Industries in West Virginia – World Atlas

[4] National Conference of State Legislators – State Renewable Portfolio Standards and Goals, August 13, 2021

[5] U.S. Energy Information Agency – West Virginia State Profile and Energy Estimates, www.eia.gov

[6] 2020 Good Jobs First, https://subsidytracker.goodjobsfirst.org/

[7] http://gregor.us/policy/coal-jobs-and-the-power-of-a-false-premise/

[8] Statista – US Coal Mining Employment in 2019

[9] Reuters, “Coal Ash Contaminates Groundwater Near Most U.S. Coal Plants: Study” by Valerie Volcovici, March 3, 2019

[10] Mining In West Virginia by West Virginia Office of Miner’s Health Safety & Training

[11] U.S. EIA, Annual Coal Report 2020, Table 6, October 2021

[12] U.S. EIA, Annual Coal Report 2020, Table 18, October 2021

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