Renewables Gaining Ground In The Mountain State

State Economy

The population of the “Mountain State,” West Virginia is approximately 1.78 million people[1]. West Virginia is the 40th most populated state in the United States.

In 2022, 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, natural gas, manufacturing, agricultural, and tourism industries[3].

Environmental Policies

In 2009, West Virginia enacted an Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, which required electric utilities with over 30,000 customers to sell 25% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

In 2015, the state repealed the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard. West Virginia is now one of only 13 states that has neither a renewable energy standard nor a renewable energy goal[4].

Power Generation Capabilities

In October 2022, state utilities[5] used coal (84.1 %), renewable energy (9.7 %), and natural gas (6.2 %) to generate electricity. Hydropower, wind, and solar are the primary types of renewable energy used to generate electricity in West Virginia.

In October 2022, the average cost of residential electricity in West Virginia was 14.40¢ per kWh, compared to the national average of 16.09¢ per kWh. West Virginia’s coal subsidies[6] contribute to the state’s below average cost of electricity.

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:

  • 250 MW Solar Project – Missouri renewable energy company, Savion Energy is continuing work on the SunPark project, which is located in the southwestern region of the state.
  • 115 MW Wind Project – In February 2022, California renewable energy company, Clearway Energy commissioned the Black Rock Wind project in the northeastern region of the state.
  • 80 MW Solar Project – In October 2022, Spanish renewable energy company, Opdenergy commissioned a solar project in the eastern region of the state.
  • 55 MW Wind Project – In December 2021, Clearway Energy completed the repowering of the Pinnacle Wind project in Keyser County, which is located in the northeast region of the state.
  • 6 MW Solar Project FirstEnergy, utility serving West Virginia is continuing work on a solar project that is being built on a closed coal ash storage facility in the northern region of the state.

Conclusions

Coal was the fuel that powered the Industrial Revolution and was 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 39,429 jobs in 2021[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 steam engines for the railroad, forges, and furnaces. Coal is still a major component in the state’s economy.

In 2021, 78.5 million tons of coal was produced from 135 mines in West Virginia[11]. However, global demand for coal continues to decline due to compelling economic and environmental data.

West Virginia has significant renewable energy potential, including wind, hydropower, biomass, 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 11,511 coal industry jobs[12] in 2021. However, West Virginia’s legislators fail to recognize that coal isn’t a renewable resource, and all the mines will close when they are no longer economic.

The 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

 

Jack Kerfoot is a scientist, energy expert, and author of the book FUELING AMERICA, An Insider’s Journey and articles for The Hill, one of the largest independent political news sites in the United States. He has been interviewed on over 100 radio and television stations from New York City to Los Angeles on numerous energy related topics.

 

[1] West Virginia Population 2023, 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 2021

[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 2021, Table 6, October 2022

[12] U.S. EIA, Annual Coal Report 2021, Table 18, October 2022

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