The West Virginia House Energy and Manufacturing Committee has advanced a bill to the full House of Delegates that would set up a reclamation bonding program for wind and solar facilities. The measure already was passed by the Senate.
Senate Bill 492 would establish a minimum bond value of $150,000 and exempt facilities with capacities less than 0.5 megawatts, meaning smaller solar energy producers and those with solar panels on their roofs would be excluded from the reach of the bill.
The committee signed off on the bill without discussion Thursday. The Senate approved it with a 30-4 vote Tuesday.
Supporters of SB 492 say its intent is to add a mechanism for the state to reclaim abandoned wind and solar facilities, the same concept behind coal, oil and gas reclamation programs.
The state’s coal reclamation bonding program is based on a certain dollar amount per acre. SB 492, however, would require the Department of Environmental Protection to determine bond amounts for wind and solar facilities based on predicted costs to potentially reclaim the facility. Operators would be required to submit a reclamation plan to the department.
Opponents of the bill say it would discourage investment in renewable energy in West Virginia, a warning that Evan Vaughan, deputy director of the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition, made to the Senate Energy, Industry and Mining Committee before it advanced the bill last week.
The penalty for not submitting a decommissioning bond would be up to $10,000 for the first day of violation and up to $500 for each additional day.
Vaughan’s coalition, which represents utility-scale wind and solar developers, fears the bill’s $150,000 bond minimum would make financing wind and solar projects in the state more difficult, given uncertainty over project bond costs.
Jason Wandling, the DEP’s general counsel, told the Energy, Industry and Mining Committee last week that the department doesn’t want its bond oversight to be cost-prohibitive.
The legislation would give the department the power to modify decommissioning plans and adjust bond requirements. Facility owners could appeal those modifications to the Environmental Quality Board within 30 days.
A department fiscal note accompanying the bill upon its introduction cautions that its implementation would require the department to incur additional personnel costs to complete bonding requirement responsibilities. It also said deposits of penalties and interest income are not expected to be at a self-sustaining level for several years.
Bedington Energy Facility LLC, a Delaware subsidiary of Colorado-based Torch Clean Energy, plans to invest $100 million to build a 100-megawatt solar facility on 750 acres at the former Dupont Potomac River Works explosives manufacturing facility in Berkeley County. A 90-megawatt solar farm in Raleigh County is expected to be operational in late 2022 or 2023, according to the project website.
Construction has started on the Black Rock Wind project, a 115-megawatt wind farm spanning Grant and Mineral counties. That project is expected to start commercial operations late this year and increase the state’s wind power by 15%.
Annual nationwide energy consumption from renewable sources exceeded coal consumption for the first time in more than 130 years in 2019, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data.