Mountain State Beginning To Move To Renewables

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 2020, West Virginia’s economy was ranked 40th in the United States in gross domestic product (GDP)[2]. The state’s economy is dependent on the coal, chemical, pharmaceutical, agriculture, and tourism industries[3].

Environment Policies

In 2009, West Virginia enacted a mandatory renewable energy standard, that 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In 2015, the state repealed the 2009 mandatory renewable energy standard.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 December 2020, state utilities[5]  used coal (89.7%), renewable energy (6.8%), and natural gas (3.5%) to generate electricity. Hydropower, wind, and solar are the primary sources of renewable energy in West Virginia.

West Virginia’s use of coal subsidies[6] contributes to the state’s below average cost of electricity. In December 2020, the average cost of residential electricity in West Virginia was 11.41 ¢ per kWh, compared to the national average of 12.80 ¢ 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 multinational company, Opdenergy began work on a solar project in Jefferson County, which is located in the eastern region of the state. The project is scheduled to be commissioned by year-end 2022.
  • 56 MW Wind Project – In May 2020, American renewable energy company, Invenergy commissioned the Beech Ridge II Wind Facility in Greenbrier County, which is located in the southeastern region of the state.
  • 55 MW Wind Project – In March 2021, Clearway Energy commenced the repowering of the Pinnacle wind farm in Keyser County, which is located in the northeast region of the state. The repowering project is scheduled to be completed by year-end 2021.
  • Solar Leasing Legislation – In April 2021, West Virginia passed legislation that allowed residential and commercial customers to buy electricity from leased solar systems. The bill is designed to encourage retail customer to investment in solar energy.

 Conclusions

 Coal was the primary fuel for the engine of America’s Industrial Revolution. The coal industry has been a major source of employment in America since beginning of the 20th Century.

Employment in the coal industry has dramatically declined in America from over 850,000 jobs in 1920[7] to less than 54,000 jobs in 2020[8]. Why? Automation replacing people in the coal mines.

Over the last fifteen years, America’s annual coal production has steadily declined due to the closure of coal-fired power plants around the world. Why?

  1. Economics – The cost to generate power from wind, solar, and hydropower is significantly cheaper than coal. The cost ($/kWh) to generate power from coal-fired plants is over twice the cost of wind or solar.
  2. 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 in America[9].
  3. Climate Change – Coal generates 30% to 40% more greenhouse gases than natural gas.

Although coal mines are continuing to close, the renewable energy industry is critically short of trained workers and is actively recruiting personnel from the coal industry. Renewable energy industry offers job security, as long as the winds blows and the sun shines.

Coal has been an integral part of West Virginia’s economy[10], since it was first commercially mined in 1852. Coal was initially used to fuel forges, furnaces, and steam engines.

In 2020, the state ranked 2nd in total coal production and 3rd in total coal reserves in the United States. West Virginia’s coal mines primarily produce bituminous coal, which is used primarily by power plants to generate electricity.

The move to renewable energy across America is being driven by concerns over climate change, environment, and economics.  Economics are even causing utilities in West Virginia, one of the last bastions for “King Coal” to turn to renewable energy.

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, January 4, 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] West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey, Histories of West Virginia Mineral Industries – Coal, June 20, 2017

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