West Virginia took another step toward a small embrace of diversified energy portfolios Tuesday as the House of Delegates passed a bill giving power companies incentive to set up limited solar power facilities.
After extensive debate, including from those who see the embrace of solar power as an affront to the state’s coal mining industry and heritage, Senate Bill 583 passed 75-23. It now goes back to the Senate to address House amendments to the bill.
State Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch and Development Office Executive Director Mike Graney had pushed for the legislation, pointing out that many Fortune 500 companies will not consider locating in places that rely solely on fossil fuels for energy production.
“Not having, frankly, the solar box checked is a problem,” Graney told the Senate Finance Committee earlier this session, “and we’ve heard that from a lot of different companies.”
Opponents of the bill argued Tuesday that the Legislature should not be appeasing companies that want to “check the green box” at the expense of coal.
Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, called green energy a fad and chastised the Republican-controlled Legislature for embracing the plan.
He noted that, when Republicans took control of the Legislature in 2015, one of their first actions was to repeal the Alternative Energy Portfolio Act of 2009 — a bill setting small thresholds requiring power companies to eventually produce 25 percent of their electricity from alternative fuels. A year earlier, the law had been a campaign issue, with Republican candidates vowing to repeal what they called “West Virginia’s Cap-and-Trade act.”
“This bill tells you all you need to know about the current Republican leadership in this House,” McGeehan said Tuesday.
Proponents of the bill argued that a diversified energy portfolio is key to recruiting new business to the state and, if successful in drawing new people and businesses to the state, it could actually increase sales of coal to power plants.
“We’ve heard from the Development Office. We’ve heard from the Governor’s Office. We’ve heard from all over folks who want to come to West Virginia,” said Delegate Moore Capito, R-Kanawha. “I would suggest to you the best way to burn more coal and to burn more [natural] gas is to get more bodies into West Virginia.”
Echoed Delegate Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, “A green vote on this bill is a green vote on major investment in West Virginia.”
Others argued that, while the bill has safeguards to maintain capacity at coal-fired power plants, the West Virginia economy cannot continue to depend exclusively on fossil fuels.
“I’m a coal guy,” Delegate Rodney Miller, D-Boone, said. “Growing up, it put food on the table. But unfortunately, those days are gone.”
The bill encourages power companies to slowly expand solar power production, with the ability to recoup investment costs through surcharges on electric bills, estimated to increase costs by about 18 cents a month for typical residential customers.
The bill is going back to the Senate to address two amendments made by the House, including one capping the total amount of investment cost recovery charges on individual customers.