You are the owner of this article.

Joey James: Can we put W.Va. to work yet? (Opinion)

Another one of the nation’s largest coal producers and a significant employer of West Virginians filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this month. Blackjewel LLC was granted a request to borrow a $5 million emergency loan by a federal bankruptcy court to keep its head partially above water. The loan will allow the company to continue to pay some employees and manage its assets and liabilities while it seeks additional financing. In recent years many coal companies have gone through similar processes and emerged reorganized and smaller than they once were.

For those miners who are lucky enough to keep their jobs through all of this, job security must feel like a pipe dream. So while the CEOs sail into retirement in some faraway place and the West Virginia miners are left without job security or no jobs at all, one has to wonder why West Virginia still has not embraced the sustainable job creating power of alternative energy resources. We can create hundreds, if not thousands, of stable jobs, and all it takes is the political will to do so.

West Virginia has the potential to generate a significant amount of electricity from solar photovoltaic systems to power homes, businesses, and the grid. Solar development represents a huge economic opportunity for West Virginia to continue as a domestic energy leader into the 21st century. If the state embraces solar-friendly policies, jobs will be created, tax revenues will increase, existing industries will secure cheap electricity into the future, and new companies seeking renewable energy will locate in West Virginia. States that make early investments in solar will reap the greatest rewards.

One need only look at the nearby area — Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina — to see how quickly solar can be developed and to identify the economic benefits that solar brings. In addition to jobs, it can stabilize and potentially reduce electricity rates and, when built at large-scales, can increase local revenues through taxes and payment in lieu of taxes agreements.

Solar development has proceeded at very different paces in different states. The most important driver is not necessarily the amount of sunlight — it is state policies. Once enabling policies are in place, local jobs will be created — even in states like West Virginia with regulated electricity markets. It’s just that easy. However, this past legislative session there was nary a bill to enable these types of jobs in the state. Actually, there were only two (The Modern Jobs Act and the West Virginians for Energy Freedom Bill) and they both failed to get out of committee. Unacceptable. We can do better, West Virginia.

Let’s join the 21st century and put our mountaineers to work. Inaction is inexcusable.

Joey James is a Senior Strategist at the environmental and economic development firm Downstream Strategies. He’s worked across Central Appalachia promoting sustainable economic development on underutilized former mine sites.