West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has signed into law a bill establishing a state-administered wind and solar reclamation bonding program.
Justice signed Senate Bill 492 into law Monday, approving the final version of the legislation that relaxed some of the bonding requirements included in the original version.
The bill was amended in the House of Delegates to eliminate the original bill’s minimum bond value of $150,000 for wind and solar facilities and increase the minimum capacity for facilities to be subject to the bill from 0.5 megawatts to 1 megawatt.
The bill was also amended to create an exemption not in the original bill for facilities already legally bound by a decommissioning agreement or granted a siting certificate by the state Public Service Commission.
Discarding the original $150,000 minimum bond, the amendment requires the state Department of Environmental Protection to determine bond amounts for wind and solar generation facilities based on the total disturbed acreage of land upon which the facilities operate, minus the salvage value, with the required bond amount not exceeding the total future of decommissioning cost, minus the salvage value.
The penalty for not submitting a decommissioning bond is up to $10,000 for the first day of violation and up to $500 for each additional day.
SB 492 is effective July 9, 90 days from passage.
Supporters of SB 492 have said it follows the same concept behind coal, oil and gas reclamation programs for any future abandoned wind and solar facilities.
Opponents of the bill have said it would discourage investment in renewable energy.
But a renewable energy industry representative who lobbied state lawmakers to oppose the original version of the bill signaled contentment with the new law Tuesday.
“We appreciate the efforts of the bill sponsors, House leadership and Senate stakeholders who worked with the renewables industry to establish reasonable decommissioning standards for wind and solar projects in West Virginia,” said Evan Vaughan, deputy director of the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition.
Vaughan added that the renewables industry is eager to continue investing in West Virginia and adding to the state’s legacy as an energy producer.
“The final bill respects existing project decommissioning agreements with landowners and local government while also creating a generally predictable regulatory process for future projects,” Vaughan said.
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 parts of 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.
Autumn Long, regional field director of Solar United Neighbors, a national nonprofit that focuses on smaller-scale solar development than that covered by SB 492, said the bill still sends the wrong message about the state’s openness to renewable energy development.
“I would argue that the existing problems and long-term issues that continue to plague this state due to the legacy of fossil fuel development over the past century and more are much more pressing issues that our lawmakers should be spending their time working to remedy rather than finding solutions to problems that don’t currently exist,” Long said.