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Legislature passes economic development bill, two roads bills in one-day special session

MORGANTOWN – The state Legislature passed a green-energy economic development bill and two bills to pave some secondary roads across the state during a one-day special session Monday.

The roads bills channel $150 million of Fiscal Year 2022 surplus to the Road Fund, Gov. Jim Justice said Monday morning before the session began. From that, $125 million goes to secondary road resurfacing – covering, 423-lane miles with a minimum two projects per county.

The remaining $25 million goes to buy new equipment, he said. “Just more and more and more good stuff coming.”

The bills – SB 4002 and 4003 – passed both houses unanimously.

The economic development bill – SB 4001 – was spurred to help attract companies that want to power their businesses with renewables, Justice said. While we want to be proud of our fossil fuels, “We want to embrace our alternative energies as well. We want West Virginia to be an all-welcoming state.”

SB 4001 allows the Economic Development Department to identify up to two sites for “high impact business development districts” no greater than 2,250 acres each, either owned or leased by the state or a subdivision, or on land previously used for coal mining.

The energy generated within the district will be used within the district or sold on the wholesale market (to PJM, the regional power grid transmission organization). Any company seeking to produce renewable energy inside the district won’t be subject to Public Serivce Commission jurisdiction concerning rates or other matters.

A company wishing to locate or expand within the district must constitute new electric generation load – meaning a company already operating in the state could open a second facility there, but not build one and close one, which would constitute a transfer of demand rather than new electric load.

The Senate passed a version tweaked from the governor’s original bill, based on stakeholder input, Finance chair Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, told the members. “This is a really powerful economic bill for West Virginia.”

It went straight to the floor with no committee consideration and passed 28-1 with no debate. All local senators present voted for it (two were absent).

In the House, the bill went to Judiciary, which did its usual job of poking at all the details before passing it without amendment.

Economic Development Secretary Mitch Carmichael told the committee that they envision multiple businesses setting up shop on the sites.

The initial site, he said, will be the former Century Aluminum plant in his home county, Jackson, which closed in 2009 and devastated the community. There will be an initial 200 jobs, plus construction jobs, reaching 1,000 jobs when it’s fully developed.

An offical announcement about who is siting there would be coming Tuesday, he and Justice said separately, but he hinted its an aerospace firm. The state will sell the site; it’s worth $25 million.

It passed the House 86-2 and heads to the governor. All local delegates voted for it.

At noon Tuesday, the House will briefly reconvene to resume the July special session, with the expectation they will name the five conferees for the abortion law bill, HB 302, which is awaiting a compromise version to hammer out House and Senate disagreements.

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