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House passes solar power development bill

SHOW OF SUPPORT — Delegate Bill Anderson, R-Wood, encourages members of the House of Delegates to support Senate Bill 583. -- WV Legislative Photography

CHARLESTON — A bill to open up West Virginia for solar energy development passed the House of Delegates Tuesday with bipartisan support

Senate Bill 583, creating a program for the further development of renewable energy resources, passed the House 76-23 with one member absent.

The legislation would encourage the development of retail solar energy production in West Virginia. It would create the Renewable Energy Facilities Program in the state Public Service Commission, the entity that regulates utilities in West Virginia. Electric companies could apply to the commission to develop solar energy facilities or energy storage resources.

The electric company would be required to sell the solar electricity to residential, commercial and industrial customers through renewable special contracts or renewable tariffs. Facilities would be allowed a capacity of more than 50 megawatts until 85 percent of that electric output is sold. After it reaches the 85 percent threshold, it can expand in 50-megawatt increments. No facility can have a capacity greater than 200 megawatts. Statewide cumulative capacity can’t exceed 400 megawatts.

Cost recovery by customers is limited, but there are no limitations to those in renewable special contracts or renewable tariffs. Voluntary solar users will eventually cover all of the costs. The application period to the commission would be closed Dec. 31, 2025. The new program will not displace current levels of coal-fired power generation.

“This bill simply, very simply, provides power companies the opportunity for expedited cost recovery when installing a solar facility upon application to the PSC,” said House Judiciary Committee Vice Chairman Moore Capito, R-Kanawha. “What we’re doing is adding a tool to our toolbox. We’ve heard from the development office, we’ve heard from the governor’s office and we’ve heard from all of our outside folks that want to come into West Virginia that this is an important piece of the mix.”

The bill passed the Senate 31-0. A similar bill, House Bill 4562, was debated in the House Energy Committee twice for two hours each time, but never got out of committee. SB 583 skipped the House Energy Committee and only went to the House Judiciary Committee.

House Energy Committee Chairman Bill Anderson, R-Wood, said he supported the bill.

“We need to move this state forward,” Anderson said. “There’s got to be a mosaic of energy production in West Virginia, embracing coal, renewables — whether it be wind or hydro — and natural gas. That mosaic of energy production I see, embracing all the resources of this state, will enable energy to be produced for the people of this state and the people of this nation in an efficient manner.”

The bill passed with both Republican and Democratic support, but not all lawmakers were supportive. Several Republicans and coal-county Democrats spoke against the bill, seeing it as a danger to the coal industry. Some Republicans also were skeptical of claims from the Department of Commerce that having the solar option would bring in tech companies.

“If renewable energy and solar energy were so good, they could afford to pay for it themselves,” said Delegate Tom Bibby, R-Berkeley. “Renewables may sound nice and good, but they’re heavily subsidized. To say coal-fired power plants won’t suffer from this legislation is just sticking your head in the sand.”

“If the only reason we’re doing this is because tech companies can check a box in order to come to our state, I think there may be tech companies out there that don’t need to check that box,” said Delegate Terry Waxman, R-Harrison. “To me, this is worshipping at the feet of the emperor with no clothes.”

Two delegates from coal counties, Delegates Rodney Miller, D-Boone, and Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, spoke in favor of the bill, saying there was room for solar in the state.

“I’m all about my coal miners and protecting our coal jobs as long as possible, but the writing is on that wall,” Zukoff said. “I think there is room in West Virginia for all of these energy types.”

“If this is something we have to do to move West Virginia forward, then we have to do that. We have to make those tough decisions,” Miller said. “This is truly a bill that can impact jobs, that can bring development to the state of West Virginia, and that can bring development to places — like where I come — that desperately need it.”

If the Senate concurs with changes the House made to the bill, the bill will head to the desk of Gov. Jim Justice.

“The best way to burn more coal and burn more gas is to get more bodies in West Virginia, and I think this bill is a really good start,” Capito said. “I’ve heard the suggest twice today that West Virginia’s future is bright. Amen. If West Virginia’s future is bright, then I would suggest that a little solar might come in handy.”

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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