The West Virginia State Legislature passed a bill in January 2015 to repeal the state’s Alternative Renewable Energy Standard (RES). Governor Earl Tomblin signed the bill in February. Groups and reporters calling this a victory for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) failed to acknowledge that the state’s alternative RES allowed advanced coal and natural gas to count towards the standard. The inclusion of fossil fuels in the law even led Jeff Herholdt, the head of the state’s division of energy to say, “We’re the only state that has an alternative portfolio standard that would be met with 100 percent coal.”
It is likely that opponents of clean energy wanted the West Virginia law repealed so that they could point to a “success,” when in reality, it had effectively no impact on the clean energy market.
The state’s coal industry helped create the alternative RES in 2009, which explains why the vast majority of power generation earning credits under the law is from coal technologies, but changed its position this legislative session and supported the repeal. A West Virginia Coal Association spokesperson said the flip was a result of the EPA Clean Power Plan.
The Heartland Institute, a fossil fuel-funded front group, applauded the West Virginia bill after failing to pass any RES repeals in 2013 and 2014. Heartland claimed victory despite the fact that West Virginia’s RES did little for the renewable energy industry. In addition, Heartland’s comments on the West Virginia standard repeated misleading claims that renewable energy standards drive up electricity costs and hurt the economy. Heartland’s James Taylor said:
West Virginia policymakers recognized, in a bipartisan and overwhelming manner, that renewable power mandates drive up electricity costs, kill jobs, punish the economy, and inflict substantial unintentional harm on the environment. Fortunately for electricity consumers and environmentalists, several other states are poised to follow West Virginia’s lead and will be considering similar legislation this year.
Heartland also promoted the work of Marita Noon from the oil and gas industry-funded Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy. Noon has highlighted the West Virginia bill and repeated misinformation that renewable energy policies are bad for the economy.
The repeal of the alternative RES did leave the state’s net metering policy in place. However, that law was not shielded from changes this year.
West Virginia Net Metering Attacked
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin also approved a bill in March that caps net metering at 3% of utility peak demand and requires the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) to study the policy. American Electric Power (AEP) lobbied to prohibit the state PSC from considering the benefits of net metering, according to The Alliance for Solar Choice.
“I think the bill is an attempt to stop solar in West Virginia,” said Delegate Stephen Skinner. And James Van Nostrand, director of West Virginia University’s Center for Energy and Sustainable Development, said the targeting of these laws is inherently anti-renewable energy because homeowners are the ones being paid for electricity production.
A task force has been created to study the net metering law and is currently working with the PSC.