West Virginia Moves to Repeal Alternative Energy Mandate [Corrected]

In a dramatic move that passed the state Legislature with little debate and almost no opposition, West Virginia lawmakers on Jan. 22 voted to repeal the state’s 2009 alternative energy standard, which requires utilities to get 25% of their power from alternative sources by 2025.

The repeal bill passed the state Senate unanimously and the state House of Delegates by a 95–4 vote. The mandate was repealed in its entirety, though the law leaves in place the state’s net metering provision. The bill now goes to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who has indicated he will sign it.

The move was supported by the state’s powerful coal industry, which argued that the mandate threatens coal industry jobs.

The wider effects of the repeal are uncertain because West Virginia’s standard is unique in a number of ways. It allows for a variety of fossil-fuel generation technologies to qualify as “alternative sources.” These include “advanced coal technology,” coal bed methane, fuel produced from coal gasification and liquefaction, and waste coal. Most of the generation currently earning credits under the law in fact uses some form of coal, and the state’s large utilities have stated the effect of the law on retail electricity rates is probably nil.

The state’s coal industry, which helped draft the law, supported it when it was passed in 2009. A spokesman for the West Virginia Coal Association said the change in position was in reaction to new EPA emissions regulations.

Though renewable portfolio standards (RPSs) generally enjoy support in public opinion polls, they have come under attack in the past few years, with opponents arguing that they drive up energy costs. Nearly all of the repeal efforts have failed thus far. While a few states, such as Ohio, Oklahoma, and Kansas, are looking at revising or scaling back their RPSs, West Virginia is the first to throw it out altogether.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who as governor helped craft the measure and signed it into law, released a statement denouncing the move. “West Virginia was the only state that showed, if we take advantage of clean energy technologies, we can reduce emissions while still utilizing coal,” he said. “It is my belief that West Virginia’s energy policies can be used as a template for future national energy policies to strike that balance between environmental concerns and America’s energy needs.”

—Thomas W. Overton, JD is a POWER associate editor (@thomas_overton, @POWERmagazine).

[This story has been updated to correct an error in the headline]