Researchers at a United States Department of Energy national laboratory have found that two landmark climate and sustainable energy laws enacted since 2021 could double the nation’s share of clean electricity by 2030.
A new report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates avoided sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act will prevent 4,200 to 18,000 premature deaths and $45 billion to $190 billion in health damages.
President Joe Biden signed the pieces of legislation into law in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
The report finds the laws have the potential to lower net electricity costs and limit climate change, in addition to reducing health impacts of power sector emissions.
The study defines clean electricity as including nuclear generation, fossil generation with carbon capture and storage, and renewable generation.
“The results of this analysis demonstrate that [the two laws] have the potential to drive transformative change in the U.S. power sector,” the report concludes.
In a medium scenario, the study projects wind, solar and storage deployment more than doubling historic maximum annual deployment rates and clean electricity surpassing 80% of total generation by 2030, with emissions falling over 80% below the 2005 carbon dioxide level. The report estimated potential emissions reductions to lead to $880 billion in avoided climate damages.
In another federal move portending further change in the nation’s energy landscape, the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday announced its final “Good Neighbor Plan,” a rule designed to slash power plant pollution.
The rule targets nitrogen oxide emissions that form smog, aiming to guard against interstate air pollution. The EPA projects its final rule will prevent roughly 1,300 premature deaths, lower asthma symptoms by 1.3 million cases, and avoid over 2,300 hospital and emergency room visits in 2026 alone.
The number of coal employees dropped by half and coal production declined 42% statewide from 1990 to 2019, according to West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training data.
But the Legislature doubled down on coal during the legislative session that ended this past weekend.
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The Legislature passed bills to give the Public Service Commission and the Public Energy Authority veto power in cases where a coal power plant is slated to close, reboot a coalfield community development office to develop an educational program to support the state coal industry, and designate sites deemed viable for coal electric generation projects.
The last coal-fired power plant 100 megawatts or greater built in the United States as of November came online in 2013, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.
The Good Neighbor Plan will have a “material impact” on the FirstEnergy-controlled Fort Martin Power Station, in Monongalia County, given its lack of selective catalytic reduction equipment used to address nitrogen oxide emissions, Mark Valach, fuels and generation commercial operation director of FirstEnergy Service Company, predicted in PSC testimony last year.
A witness for the PSC’s Consumer Advocate Division, an independent arm of the commission charged with representing ratepayer interests, recommended that FirstEnergy subsidiary Mon Power buy the Pleasants Power Station and then consider closing the Fort Martin plant, noting the former plant has the selective catalytic reduction technology the latter facility lacks.
FirstEnergy spokesperson Hannah Catlett said Thursday the company is evaluating the new regulation to determine what effects it may have on its generating plants.
Other ratepayer advocates, including Energy Efficient West Virginia, have blasted the option of Mon Power buying the Pleasants plant as a costly bailout. The Legislature bailed out the Pleasants Power Station in 2019 by approving an estimated $12.5 million in annual tax breaks for the financially struggling facility.
The PSC issued an order on Dec. 30 requiring Mon Power and Potomac Edison to file a report with the agency evaluating a potential purchase of the Pleasants Power Station by March 31.
The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has invested in upgrades to power infrastructure, lead service lines, roads, bridges and broadband while supporting a planned national network of electric vehicle chargers and funding abandoned mine and oil and gas well cleanup.
The Inflation Reduction Act approved an unprecedented $369 billion in clean energy and climate spending, including a 10% tax credit for renewable energy projects in energy communities like those all over West Virginia.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was the only member of West Virginia’s congressional delegation to vote for both laws, playing a key role in shaping each. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and then-Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., voted for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., a 2024 Senate candidate, and Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., voted against both bills.