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House Energy OKs nuclear power and cites certification bills, divides on resolution support coal as baseload power source

MORGANTOWN – The House Energy and Manufacturing Committee gave its OK Thursday to the House version of the bill to lift the ban on nuclear plant construction, and to an economic development bill creating the Certified Sites and Development Readiness Program.

HB 2882, the nuclear plant bill, is the same as SB 4. It’s only one sentence long and repeals the two sections of code passed in 1996 that imposed the ban. After some questions from delegates, it passed without debate in a voice vote, with several votes against.

Unlike SB 4, which saw only one committee review and will be on first reading in the Senate on Friday, HB 2882 will go to Government Organization before heading to the House floor.

Cite certification bill

HB 4002 is the Certified Sites and Development Readiness Program bill. Before the session, legislative leaders talked about the need for this bill in order to make West Virginia more competitive with other states for businesses and industries scouting potential sites for new locations. Those companies want shovel-ready sites with solid infrastructure and access to transportation corridors.

The program will be administered by the Economic Development Department and will feature a process for applicants to identify and describe potential sites for economic development and investment. Applicants must be governmental entities: municipal, county, regional and state.

The department will select participants and suggest a prioritized list of site improvements for approved applications, and reevaluate sites as improvements are made.

The program will offer two types of grants. One will be a 50% match for direct improvements, with the maximum grant to be established at a later date by the department. This grant must be paid back when the site is sold or leased for development.

The other grant is a micro grant for up to $25,000 to assist in site improvements. Both grants must be spent within 12 months.

The bill also creates a Certified Sites and Development Readiness Fund to handle the money that will flow.

This bill also passed in a voice vote, with no objections, and heads to Finance.

Coal power resolution

The most controversial measure of the day for the committee was a resolution supporting fossil-fuel baseload power and promoting research into carbon capture and advanced nuclear power.

HR 5 says China is the world’s largest CO2 producer while India emits more than the U.S. “The continued deployment of nondispatchable, intermittent wind and solar power projects without a backup power source will expose the electric grid to less reliability and resilience.”

“The premature retirement of thermal dispatchable plants have eroded and will continue to erode the affordability, resilience, and reliability of electric grids across the United States until there are sufficient transmission facilities or replacement fuel infrastructure in place,” it says.

It calls on state and federal lawmakers and utility companies to “provide market incentives to foster the maintenance of adequate and reliable dispatchable sources of power” and encourage research into advanced nuclear and small modular nuclear reactors and into carbon capture and storage. Given the time required for this, “the West Virginia House of Delegates urges that these reforms and policies should be pursued with a sense of renewed urgency.”

Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, offered some objections to the resolution. The Energy Committee, he said, is dealing with some of most important and challenging issues facing the state, and he wants ensure the debate is based on facts and a full discussion of different sides of the issue.

The resolution, he said makes some incorrect statements and tells only half the story; it doesn’t explain the role of fossil-fuel plants in contributing to climate change.

Delegate Mark Zatezalo, R-Hancock and lead sponsor, defended it. The U.S., he said, has done much to to eliminate carbon emissions and address climate change. He presented a chart showing the U.S. coal-fired power accounts for only 6% of global carbon emissions.

Coal is critical to grid stability, he said. Natural gas is good but not uninterruptible and not a baseload, as the Texas winter storm power outage revealed. Renewables also failed to supply adequate backup in that disaster, he said.

“If the grid is unstable, it’s a national security issue,” he said. “If that little 6% keeps us with a stable grid, I say we need to do it.”

The resolution passed in a voice vote, not unanimously, and goes to House Rules – as all resolutions do.

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