WV's renewable energy standards act makes no sense - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

WV's renewable energy standards act makes no sense

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Rob Cornelius Rob Cornelius
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Rob Cornelius is the secretary of the West Virginia Federation of Young Republicans.

Why exactly did the West Virginia Legislature vote to limit coal usage in 2009? Yeah, that's an actual real thing that happened in the legislative session of 2009. West Virginia delegates and State senators passed a bill, signed by Gov. Joe Manchin, intentionally limiting the future burning of coal at existing West Virginia power plants.

That certainly sounds ridiculous to the naked ear. But what makes it more ridiculous is that leading members of the coal industry backed it.

Why? Simple. Because it was sold to them and by them as a way to actually mine and sell more West Virginia coal … at the expense of West Virginia electricity customers.

Hard to believe? Hardly. It was just a symptom of the rent-seeking behavior prevalent among the competing fossil fuel industries in this state before they figured out that President Barack Obama and liberal Democrats nationally were out to destroy any fossil fuel. Coal, natural gas, oils of any sort all turned out to be unwelcome after early 2009.

The bill in question was something called House Bill 103 in 2009, the Portfolio and Renewable Energy Standards Act. 

It looks like a cap and trade bill on its face, with power producers to obtain some sort of pollution or carbon credits depending on how much of their power comes from specific power sources the bill termed as "alternative" or "renewable." Some of those make perfect sense to the untrained eye, like coal plants with carbon sequestration or burning natural gas.

Others like burning used tires would seem to miss the point of the pristine environment allegedly the goal of a bill like this.

Is coal use capped? Assuming no new coal plants are built or new ones improved with still more scrubber or carbon capture technology, yes. Absolutely.

This bill pivots on the language that 10 to 25 percent of existing electricity production must in the future be from these allegedly renewable or alternative sources. Some of our power plants that burn coal already hit the marks for cleaner power generation in this bill, clean enough to meet the "alternative energy resources" component of this bill. 

The nearly new Longview Power station plant near Morgantown is the vanguard example.

Here's the problem.

West Virginia, when this bill was proposed and passed by virtually every Democrat in the state Legislature was getting nearly 99 percent of its electricity from coal burned in or near the state's borders.

This bill, this HB 103 from 2009, is built on an impossibility. Will West Virginia have 10 percent of power produced from plants like Longview by 2015? Will they build enough Longview-esque plants or sink enough new dollars into AEP's John Amos plant or the like to hit 25 percent "alternative" coal power by 2025?

The current administration in Washington says "No." They tell folks who mine coal and burn it that if you try to build a new coal-fired power plant, "We will bankrupt you."

That wasn't in the plans when Gov. Manchin and Democrats here made this bill law. They and the industry assumed that power companies would still be building and spending on power plants.

And the coal industry, in spite of the optics, loved it. They loved it. And now, it hastens their own demise.

Why did they love it? Every scrubber. Every fluidized bed. Every carbon capture technology is billions more wasted BTUs.

All these new technologies add things like parasytic loads and other technical terms that simply mean less efficiency. These new, beautiful state of the art coal plants off whose floors you can eat cloth napkin-quality meals? They all at some level require more coal to create the same amount of power.

In exchange for burying carbon or hiding sulfur in some other medium, you lose a ton of energy.

The coal industry loved this. They sell more coal to power plants, which increase demand and likely coal prices to all consumers.

West Virginia power plants are regulated utilities. That means when coal prices go up or they build these new pristine coal burners, they get to pass all the costs along to you as a ratepayer.

Those regulated monopolies mean you don't get a choice but to pay more for less electricity to your home.

That's why Big Coal went along with this seemingly self-destructive bill in West Virginia.

But now, they're trapped. No one can afford to build plants and no one will soon, even if Obama is retired back to Hawaii in November. 

Until there are new coal plants or this law is shredded, West Virginians will soon be forced to import alternative power from other states while our coal is shipped to China and the like.

What's the sense in that?

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