August 27, 2020 Read More →

Solar obtaining foothold in West Virginia coal country

Energy Wire ($):

Renewable energy has historically faced opposition in coal-rich West Virginia. Coal powered 92% of the state’s electricity in 2018, while renewables accounted for just 5% of the state’s electricity mix.

But this spring, the West Virginia Legislature passed with bipartisan support a bill that would allow utility-scale solar for the first time. The bill, S.B. 583, could increase solar capacity statewide from 9.9 megawatts to 400 MW. In June, one of the state’s utility companies, Appalachian Power, released a request for proposals for its first 50-MW solar project in the Mountain State.

“In terms of the politics, three, four or five years ago, this bill would never have passed,” said Evan Hansen, a Democratic member of the West Virginia House of Delegates who supported the bill. “But there’s been an evolution in people’s thinking.”

Renewable energy projects can make up for some, but not all, of the jobs lost in the coal industry, noted Karl Cates, transition policy analyst at the Cleveland-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. The institute advocates for transitioning to a “diverse, sustainable and profitable energy economy.”

For example, renewable energy company Photosol U.S. has proposed a new 372-MW solar farm and battery storage facility to be built adjacent to the San Juan Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant in New Mexico’s Four Corners region that is set to retire in 2022 (Climatewire, Jan. 3).

Known as the Shiprock Solar project, the solar farm will benefit from the transmission lines associated with the coal-fired plant and could replace some of the coal jobs lost in that region as its once-extensive coal fleet fades away.

“Will a project like Shiprock replace all the jobs lost at San Juan? No, but it will replace some of them,” Cates said. 

[Miranda Wilson]

More: ‘Evolution in people’s thinking’: Solar arrives in W.Va.

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