Energy, Environment, West Virginia Legislature

House Energy Committee advances solar power and coal power bills

MORGANTOWN – Solar power and coal power both received potential boosts from bills advanced by the House Energy and Manufacturing Committee on Tuesday.

The solar bill is HB 5528. Current law allows the state’s two electric utilities (Mon Power, a FirstEnergy subsidiary, and AEP) to build or buy and then own and operate solar plants — up to 50 megawatt plants totaling 200 MW per utility — in order to draw national companies to West Virginia that want a significant solar element in their energy portfolio.

The bill increases the potential size of a plant to 100 MW. The 200 MW total cap remains in place.

Committee counsel said the idea is to allow the utilities to build larger, more cost-effective facilities.

The bill also removes the Dec. 31, 2025, sunset put into the original 2020 legislation. Counsel said this will give the utilities more time to build facilities – until they reach the 200 MW cap.

One delegate said he believes the bill, and the program, caters to “woke” companies and there are plenty of others that could come here.

But Delegate Bob Fehrenbacher, R-Wood and a bill co-sponsor, had a Q&A with Randall Short of Appalachian Power. Short said his utility has regular talks with companies that want to expand in or locate to West Virginia and they expressed interest in the program because they have a corporate interest in renewable energy, for various reasons.

With that access to renewable or renewable credits (which is essentially what the program provides for) they wouldn’t consider coming here. He said he couldn’t name them, but Appalachian Power is currently talking with two companies that are looking to expand and have grants with a renewable energy requirement.

Renewables make up only a small portion of Appalachian’s resource mix, he said. They have 6,000 MW of coal-fired capacity and if they reached the 200 MW cap, solar would make up a tiny percentage.

The committee approved the bill in a divided voice vote. It heads to the House floor.

As we’ve reported, Mon Power has one solar site in operation, at Fort Martin, producing 18.9 MW, and four others in various stages of preparation or planning, totaling another 31.2 MW.

The coal bill is HB 5522 and is designed to help offset the two utilities’ costs for mandated environmental pollution control equipment.

As it came to the committee, it provided for a 35% credit against their business and occupation taxes for expenses incurred in installation, repair and maintenance of the pollution control equipment, including for carbon capture and storage.

The total tax liability reduction, with all deductions combined, cannot exceed 50%.

The committee adopted an amendment offered by Delegate Scot Heckert, R-Wood, to add the costs of operating the pollution control equipment to the list – along with installation, repair and maintenance.

The committee approved the bill in a unanimous voice vote and it heads to Finance.