Americans use energy. Lots of it. Energy consumption is projected to grow about a half a percent every year through 2050, according to the U.S. Energy Information Institute’s Annual Energy Outlook for 2018.
The energy we consume has to come from somewhere. We think more of it should come from West Virginia.
As a state, West Virginia is the nation’s fifth largest producer of U.S. energy, according to the EIA’s State Profile using 2016 figures; second in coal, seventh in natural gas, 15th in crude oil. The natural gas ranking may rise as new pipelines taking gas to other states are completed.
But any developer who proposes a new energy generation or transportation project faces strong opposition from one group or another.
Construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to move West Virginia natural gas to energy consumers in southeastern states is on hold due to opposition from groups who oppose new use of fossil fuels.
Yet a developer who proposes building a 500-megawatt renewable energy hydropower project in Tucker County faces opposition from environmentalists as well.
What to do?
For hundreds of thousands of years, power came from the muscles of mankind. As humans progressed, they learned to train animals to perform much of their labor — hence the term “horsepower” as a measure of force.
And as James E. Casto reports in today’s Daily Mail WV feature on renewable energy, humans have used the power of wind for millennia.
Likewise, hydropower is one of the world’s oldest sources of energy. The West Virginia Encyclopedia notes that gristmills have been a significant part of the state’s industrial and cultural history and notable features of its landscape for more than 250 years.
With industrialization, humans learned how to capture the energy embedded in carbon based fuels of coal, oil and natural gas. But use of fossil fuels has become controversial.
Despite climate change concerns, the world will continue to rely on fossil fuels for generations. Renewables cannot match the abundance, reliability and affordability that fossil fuels provide.
But every form of energy has a cost, both financially and environmentally.
It would take acres and acres and acres of solar panels to provide the energy needed for a city the size of Charleston — and that’s just on sunny days. Migratory birds often get struck and killed by spinning blades of windmills. Hydropower usually means damming rivers and streams and changing the ecology of a region.
Humans won’t go back to the old ways of horsepower. We’ve got to continually develop and improve energy production, transmission and distribution.
For generations, thousands of West Virginians have made their livelihood supplying energy to the nation and the world. That can and should continue. Young West Virginians have opportunities to go into the traditional energy industries of coal, oil and natural gas, and also into renewable green energy.
The challenge now is to learn how to design and build energy infrastructure that is accepted in today’s social environment of opposition.
But West Virginians are up for it. Hats off to the many mountaineers — past, present and future — who take on the challenge of powering our world and making our lives better.