In 2022, West Virginia’s economy was ranked 41st in the United States in gross domestic product (GDP). The state’s economy is dependent on the mining, manufacturing, agricultural, and tourism industries.
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In 2015, West Virginia repealed the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard.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.
Power Generation Capabilities
In April 2023, utilities used coal (87.6%), renewable energy (7.0%), and natural gas (5.4%) to generate electricity in West Virginia. Hydropower and wind are the dominant types of renewable energy used to generate electricity in West Virginia.
In April 2023, the average cost of residential electricity in West Virginia was 14.41¢ per kWh, compared to the national average of 16.11¢ per kWh. West Virginia’s coal subsidies contribute to the state’s below average cost of electricity.
Recent renewable energy projects in West Virginia state include:
- 250 MW Solar Project – Renewable energy company, Savion Energy is continuing work on the SunPark project, which is located in the southwestern region of West Virginia. The project is forecast to be commissioned by 2024.
- 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.
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 to just 41,100 jobs in December 2022. Why?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Climate Change – Coal generates 40% to 45% more greenhouse gas emissions than natural gas. Governments and businesses around the world now recognize the threat of climate change.
Coal was first commercially mined in West Virginia in 1810. Coal was initially used to fuel steam engines for the railroad, forges, and furnaces.
In 2021, 78.5 million tons of coal was produced from 135 mines in West Virginia. 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 10,329 coal industry jobs 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 wind blows and the sun shines. Coal is still “King” in the Mountain State, but wind and solar are making inroads.
Website – “Our Energy Conundrum”
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, podcast, and television stations from New York City to Los Angeles on numerous energy issues.