MORGANTOWN – As President Biden came before America Thursday morning to outline his scaled-down Build Back Better framework, some local delegates and other leaders had gathered at the WVU law school to promote the green energy portions of the proposal.
Shane Ferguson, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 596, which covers 13 counties, touted the promise of construction and manufacturing jobs for West Virginians that would result if Congress approves the plan.
We’re bouncing back from the pandemic, he said. “But it’s not enough to bounce back to a status quo. We need to build back better than before, and that’s exactly what the Build Back Better Act would do.”
The clean energy investments in the framework, he said, could lead to lower electric bills, improve public health, and put people back to work in family-wage jobs doing such things as building electric vehicles, constructing EV charging and electric transmission infrastructure, and working in supply chain manufacturing for clean energy projects.
Through negotiations, Biden has trimmed Build Back Better from $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion, though it’s not in final form and its fate remains uncertain.
A summary in The Hill of what’s in and what’s out of the plans says it includes $320 billion for clean energy tax credits to apply to transmission, storage, manufacturing, residential homes, passenger vehicles and commercial vehicles.
It also provides $500 billion in climate provisions, including $105 billion for environmental resilience to address the impacts of extreme weather events and provide for a Civilian Climate Corps and $130 billion for renewable energy development and procurement for the federal government to be the primary buyer of next-generation renewable technologies.
Among the provisions that are out, The Hill reported, are the Clean Electricity Performance Program, which would provide financial incentives for electric utilities to transition away from fossil fuels.
At WVU Thursday, Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, said climate change is already impacting West Virginia. He noted the summer floods that deluged Evansdale because the infrastructure can’t handle the heavy rain and runoff.
Build Back Better, he said, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in West Virginia communities and workers, diversify local economies and stop the flood of people leaving the state. Plan money, he said, can help reclaim abandoned coal mines and orphaned gas wells, and tax credits to coal communities can create manufacturing jobs.
Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, also D-Monongalia, said Build Back Better is about prevention, not reconstructing after disaster. “If we have this destruction coming over and over, we’re clearly going to have to pay for that. This is taxpayer money. … So why not prevent and build back better?”
She added that this area has the resources to take advantage of program measures and funding: WVU and its WVU Center for Energy and Sustainable Development, Fairmont State University, the National Energy Technology Laboratory, the High Tech Consortium and the satellite contractors tied to that and WVU and NETL, and technical education centers and unions with workers ready and willing to be trained in green technology jobs.
James Van Nostrand, director of WVU’s Center for Energy and Sustainable Development, said that while West Virginia’s electricity rates remain relatively low, they have risen five times the national average in recent years because the state hasn’t diversified from coal. “That has not served our ratepayers very well.”
But taking advantage of clean energy technologies, he said, could “produce massive amounts of clean energy jobs” and lower electricity rates.
Building out EV infrastructure, he said, would also benefit power utilities by increasing their demand and producing new revenue, which could, in turn, lower bills.
While wind and solar aren’t ready to be the backbone of the power supply, he said, there is capability in the state to site more facilities. Battery storage capacity is improving. And since we are part of the PJM regional power grid, the resources are available to give the flexibility for peak demand.
Morgantown City Councilman Bill Kawecki envisions a better future that doesn’t pollute, he said. “You can see a glimpse of that future in the LED lights that we have downtown, our solar panels, and the move toward electric vehicles and charging stations right here in Morgantown.”
The city has performed energy audits and made improvements using clean technologies installed by a local workforce, he said. “This is the direction we need to go in to enhance our economic vitality.”
Turning back to jobs, Ferguson said Local 596 and the four other locals in the state are getting members trained and certified for solar installation and for working in the EV infrastructure field.
And EV infrastructure is crucial, he said. The Interstate 79 corridor has no non-Tesla fast charging stations and the West Virginia Electrical Association advises non-Tesla drivers to avoid that route. “We need this to shore up our economy. … Labor’s ready, and the pool of people are ready for these good jobs.”