The Mountain State’s TRUSTED news source.

Click here to stay informed and subscribe to The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Click #isupportlocal for more information on supporting our local journalists.

Learn more about HD Media

A report from West Virginia University researchers and economic modeling experts projecting the impact that U.S. Senate Democrats’ proposals would have in West Virginia uses the word “jobs” 40 times.

Specifically, the eight-page report estimates that legislative proposals from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., would create thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in manufacturing in West Virginia while allowing 79.4% emission-free electricity generation in the state by 2030.

“It’s clearly a darn good deal for our state and, hopefully, one we’ll take advantage of,” said Tim Cronin, a fellow at the WVU College of Law’s Center for Energy and Sustainable Development, one of the organizations behind the report.

Landing as Congress wrangles with proposals for a sweeping federal investments in infrastructure — including a bipartisan $1.2 trillion bill that passed the Senate earlier this month — the analysis finds that the 79% emission-free power sector would yield a net increase of employment in West Virginia equivalent to 3,508 full-time jobs through 2040, swell total earnings for state residents by $172 million, on average, through 2040 and bring $20.9 billion of investment in new power plants in the state.

But the $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal the Senate approved on Aug. 10 does not include most of the Manchin and Wyden proposals on which the report bases its projections.

“To do what we are proposing and to get the job creation and the energy cost savings that we outlined, you absolutely need the rest of the package,” Cronin said.

The rest of the package Cronin is referring to is a $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package that Democrats are crafting to not only include climate policies left out of the bipartisan deal but strengthen the nation’s social safety net through expanded Medicare, enhanced child care and housing support and protections for unions.

The analysis assumes enactment of Wyden’s version of clean energy tax incentive extensions proposed under President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan and a bill Manchin sponsored that would incentivize domestic manufacturing of advanced energy technologies by funneling investments into coal communities and other regions that have suffered from dwindling manufacturing jobs.

“What the Senate has already passed so far, there’s plenty of great stuff in there, without a doubt,” Cronin said of the infrastructure bill that would include $65 billion for broadband, $110 billion for roads and bridges, $55 billion for water infrastructure and $11.3 billion in abandoned mine land reclamation funding. “But it just doesn’t come anywhere near as setting into action this clean innovation pathway.”

If enacted as part of the American Jobs Plan, the Manchin-sponsored American Jobs in Energy Manufacturing Act would catalyze an additional $1.7 billion in manufacturing investments in West Virginia and result in $610-810 million in additional annual labor income across all sectors in West Virginia, including $290-390 million in the state’s manufacturing sector.

The $20.9 billion of investment in new power plants in West Virginia that the report projects the 79% emission-free power sector would yield includes 10,600 megawatts of solar, 5,300 megawatts of wind and 4,984 megawatts of energy storage installations through 2040.

“[T]he approach [was] comparing the current trajectory to a much more significant buildout of renewable energy, taking into account these infrastructure incentive proposals,” Cronin said.

Joining WVU researchers in producing the report were Gridlab, a Berkeley, California-based energy policy and technology firm, and the environmental and economic consulting firms Synapse Energy Economics (based in Cambridge, Massachusetts) and Downstream Strategies (based in Morgantown).

Final passage of any infrastructure investments will be a steep challenge for Democrats, despite their majority in Congress.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said she will not take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill until the Senate passes the larger budget package, which all Democrat senators must get behind to ensure passage, given the lack of Republican support.

That includes Manchin, who has balked at its $3.5 trillion price tag, citing inflation concerns and an elevated number of unfilled jobs nationwide.

But even if West Virginia gets the federal investment the report calls for, James Van Nostrand, director of the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development, warns that state leaders will have to embrace a clean energy future that market forces are dictating they contend with whether they support it or not.

Van Nostrand cited Gov. Jim Justice’s recent Public Service Commission and Public Energy Authority appointments and a commission decision regarding the future of three in-state coal-fired power plants as evidence that that isn’t happening.

Justice’s reactivation of the Public Energy Authority board included his appointment of a former West Virginia Coal Association director, Jeffery W. Allen, as the board’s statutorily required environmental advocate in a move that might have violated state code. That selection followed the governor’s appointment of former West Virginia Coal Association president Bill Raney to the Public Service Commission earlier this month.

The PSC drew the ire of clean energy advocates by approving a request earlier this month from Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power to implement and recover costs through a surcharge for environmental upgrades at the John Amos, Mountaineer and Mitchell coal-fired plants in Putnam, Mason and Marshall counties federally required to keep the facilities operating through 2040, instead of retiring them early.

The fate of those plants is still unclear after differing rulings from West Virginia and Kentucky’s public service commissions and a pending ruling from Virginia utility regulators, since Kentucky regulators also have jurisdiction over the Mitchell plant and Virginia regulators have jurisdiction over the Amos and Mountaineer plants.

“[Y]ou don’t see the same movement towards clean energy at the state level,” Van Nostrand said. “That is a source of concern, because I think we need to have everybody on the same page, in terms of taking advantage of this opportunity that we have.”

Mike Tony covers the environment. He can be reached at 304-348-1236 or Follow @Mike__Tony on Twitter.

Recommended for you