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Renewables Could Bring Thousands of Jobs to WV

The Center for Energy and Sustainable Development at the West Virginia University College of Law recently released a report which shows that switching to renewable energy would be cost-effective, could create thousands of jobs, and potentially save consumers money. 

The report, titled “West Virginia’s Energy Future,” was produced in partnership with Downstream Strategies, Synapse Energy Economics, and GridLab. It presents “a plan to ramp up renewable energy to decrease costs, reduce risks, and strengthen economic opportunities in the Mountain State,” and shows how by 2035, West Virginia could generate more than 70 percent of its electricity from solar and wind.

According to the report, which “compares the current trajectory of West Virginia’s electric utilities — estimated to maintain 84 percent coal-fired generation in 2035 —against an alternative future of more energy efficiency, solar energy, and wind energy,” increasing renewables would create “thousands of renewable energy and energy efficiency jobs, presents a net positive impact on overall employment in the state through 2030, and has an almost neutral (-0.0002%) net-impact on overall employment through 2035, as WVU Today explains.

The report presents five key arguments for electric utilities to consider moving quickly to increase their focus on renewables and energy efficiency, noting that:

  • Renewable energy costs are low and becoming increasingly cheaper.
  • Business and individual customer demand for renewable energy is rising.
  • Diversifying the state’s energy mix is critical to competing in the regional renewable energy economy and to securing a place in the 21st-century energy economy.
  • The financial risks posed by emissions from power plants are intensifying due to public support for bipartisan proposals to address climate change by charging fees for carbon dioxide emissions. If such fees were enacted it would likely hit coal-fired power plants the hardest because those plants emit the most carbon dioxide.
  • More and more lenders and investors are choosing to withhold capital from utilities that aren’t transitioning away from emission-heavy energy mixes.

West Virginia’s Energy Future assesses current energy generation by state electric utilities Appalachian Power, Wheeling Power, and Monongahela Power, and compares it to its “Ramped Up Renewables scenario [which] would result in affordable, diversified resource portfolios that are less vulnerable to emissions liabilities and fuel cost variability.” 

The report recommends how each utility could hypothetically accomplish a renewable energy transition and achieve a certain percentage of solar, wind, and hydropower, in addition to coal. The cost-competitive transition would create jobs and allow policymakers to ensure economic opportunities for coal workers in the future, the authors note.

As the report states, “Renewable energy cost declines have been dramatic over the past decade, and the decreases continue to exceed forecasts. Since 2009, the cost of solar energy and wind energy have decreased by 90 percent and 71 percent respectively. Specifically, solar energy has gone from $359 per megawatt-hour to $37 per megawatt-hour. These figures do not even include any applicable tax incentives or rebates.”

Close to 3,000 full-time jobs could be created from solar and energy efficiency installations alone if its “Ramped Up Renewables” scenario is pursued, West Virginia’s Energy Future says.

“West Virginia’s electric utilities are already planning to retire their coal-fired power plants by 2050 at the latest,” said Director of the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development James Van Nostrand. “The question we need to confront today is whether we want the electric utilities to continue tacking costs onto customer’s bills over the next few decades to keep those plants afloat, or do we want them to invest now to create local jobs in the growing renewable energy economy and reduce our exposure to downswings in the coal industry.”

The report suggests that state electric utilities should proceed carefully and with the purpose of offering continuous opportunities for workers and new investments in communities, as WVU Today reports. It also encourages the state’s congressional delegation to “condition its support for any national climate legislation on a federal reinvestment in West Virginia’s energy sector and coal communities to strengthen opportunities for the state and its workers in the new energy economy.”

“To compete with the flourishing renewable energy economies in our neighboring states and ensure our place in the 21st-century energy economy, West Virginia must immediately begin planning how to catalyze our own renewable energy economy through the diversification of our electric utilities’ portfolio mix,” the report reads.

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