Residents on state energy plan: more about efficiency, please - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

Residents on state energy plan: more about efficiency, please

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Efficiency, it is often said, is the fastest, cheapest and cleanest energy resource.

If comments at a Sept. 6 public meeting in Morgantown on the state Division of Energy's draft 2013-2017 State Energy Plan are any indication, some state residents have taken that to heart.

The meeting, the second of three across the state, reviewed the Energy Plan draft and sought comments.

The draft Energy Plan is in three sections: one on prospects over the coming five years for fossil energy, prepared at West Virginia University, and one each on prospects for renewable energy and energy efficiency, prepared at Marshall University.  

Fossil fuels

WVU economist Tom Witt's presentation on fossil fuels was dominated by the word "decline" in relation to the word "coal." One slide was titled "WV coal industry in serious trouble."

The outlook for West Virginia coal is captured in a production forecast chart that shows volumes sliding from a high of more than 170 million tons in the mid-1990s to about 130 million tons this year to less than 100 million tons by 2020.

What happens with natural gas, Witt said, will depend a lot on price. But he noted that natural gas will represent a growing share of electricity production.

Recommendations in the form of short-term development goals involve monitoring economic conditions, establishing partnerships with industry and researchers, and seeking opportunities.

Renewables and efficiency

Marshall University economist Christine Risch covered solar and wind power and energy efficiency.

Risch said West Virginia has not had as much solar generation installed as surrounding states — just 1 megawatt — mainly because there are fewer incentives in place. And while the state has about 600 megawatts of wind generation, the threatening lapse of the federal Production Tax Credit would limit future investments.

Risch's recommendations fell mainly under efficiency. More up-to-date building codes are needed, she said. The state should establish an energy efficiency resource standard that would require electric utilities to promote reductions in customer demand and, with that, it should decouple utility revenue from sales to remove the disincentive for energy efficiency programs.

About other renewable sources of energy, Marshall economist Calvin Kent's presentation was minimally unenthusiastic. Support biodiesel for school buses, he said. Wood biomass may be somewhat useful as a fuel, and research on alternative biomass sources such as switchgrass should continue. Small-scale hydropower may work in remote areas. The state's population density is too low for a waste-to-energy project, but it might work at a regional scale. More landfill gas projects beyond the one in place may be possible.

Comments

Several commenters strongly supported the energy efficiency resource Standards that Risch brought up, as well as for rate decoupling and strong building codes.

"A more energy-efficient building is going to give us 50 years of savings," said James Kotcon, chairman of the energy committee of the West Virginia Sierra Club, in support of modern building codes. "A wasteful building gives us 50 years of waste."

Energy Efficient West Virginia was disappointed that the plan did not include recommendations for co-generation, or combined heat and power, said Coordinator Cathy Kunkel.

Advantages of re-using waste heat, Kunkel said, include reduced line losses and grid stability benefits.

"Considering that both of our utilities have announced that they're short on (generating) capacity and are looking to acquire additional capacity," she said, "now seems like an important time for the Division of Energy to be promoting co-generation as an efficient use of fossil fuels and increasing industrial competitiveness in our state."

New laws could enable non-utility generators to sell to customers, said Industries of the Future-West Virginia Coordinator Carl Irwin — one of the key foundations to fostering implementation of combined heat and power.

"There's a very recent executive order that says within the next decade, 40 gigawatts of combined heat and power will be a goal across the country," Irwin said, "Agencies are going to be working with states to see these types of implementations, so it's a great time to get on board with what's happening relative to that."

Smart grid technologies offer an unprecedented opportunity to implement these policies, he added.

EEWV's Stacy Gloss asked for a recommendation supporting Integrated Resource Plan legislation that would require utilities to analyze costs and benefits of both demand-side and supply-side resources and choose the lowest-cost option.

"The identification of capacity shortages in the Integrated Resource Plan would trigger a requirement for the utility to issue requests for proposal for additional capacity," she said, "allowing open competition between gas plants, coal plants, co-generation facilities, renewable energy and demand-side resources to meet capacity."

Even Chesapeake Energy Vice President Scott Rotruck rose in support not only of natural gas, but of energy efficiency.

"It is important. This country needs to produce with a lot less energy per unit of output," Rotruck said.

The draft plan may be found at www.energywv.org/energyplan. A third meeting will take place at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 7, at the Martinsburg Holiday Inn.

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