Freshman delegate hopes low-cost energy bill gets look this session

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Delegate Evan Hansen has a vision and a bill to enhance industry and create jobs through low-cost energy derived from solar and gas.

Del. Evan Hansen

His SB 2589, introduced Jan. 22, is called the Modern Jobs (MOJO) Act. It has nine co-sponsors, four of them Republicans.

The goal of the bill is to serve big power users – either existing industry or corporations that have significant renewable energy targets. “There’s more and more companies across the country that commit themselves to a large percentage of renewable energy,” he said.

Big firms such as Google and Apple need data centers that use a lot of electricity and they want if from renewables, he said. “They won’t come to West Virginia now if the grid electricity is 93 percent coal.”

The bill envisions two means of power, he said. One feeds electricity to a customer from a solar farm built on a former surface mine site. The other feeds a plant from a third-party co-generation facility built adjacent to an industrial site.

Co-generation plants produce both power and steam for heat. The bill deliberately doesn’t specify the fuel source, but Hansen envisions natural gas. The bill says that this third-party co-gen plant wouldn’t be recognized as a utility and regulated by the Public Service Commission if it serves a single customer or no more than five customers on the same or immediately adjacent property.

These power options wouldn’t be a mandate, he said, just a choice.

Hansen’s introduced bill mentioned only the solar farms. Conversations with the West Virginia Manufacturers Association and the West Virginia Energy Users Group – which characterizes itself as “a statewide association of large, energy intensive industrial, chemical, manufacturing and institutional concerns” – led to the addition of the co-gen power plants.

Rebecca McPhail

Manufacturers Association President Rebecca McPhail talked about her group’s buy-in in an email exchange.

“Electricity cost is an important consideration for manufacturers, and co-generation of electricity, which offers opportunity to share in cost-effective electric production, is an option that manufacturers would welcome,” she said.

“Furthermore, some of our members may have requirements or goals for using electricity from renewable sources, and they would be glad for the opportunity to voluntarily purchase solar power generated in West Virginia.

“We encourage out-of-the-box thinking like HB 2589,” she said, “and any other legislation that gives us a competitive edge and allows us to produce, and employ people, in West Virginia.”

The bill is double referenced, first to Technology and Infrastructure, then to Energy. Hansen said he’s received no sign it will appear on the Technology agenda, and he understands new ideas can take several years to get traction.

However, he’s done his homework on what’s available out there for solar farms. The bill mentions this in its legislative findings.

A 2011 analysis says there are more than 550 square miles of former surface mine and other degraded land in the state, with less than 2 percent of it restored to productive use.

A 2017 study by Hansen’s Downstream Strategies says 219 square miles of land suitable for large scale solar farms. And a third 2018 study indicates West Virginia has been losing its competitive advantage for low electricity rates over the last decade.

“There’s lot of this land,” Hansen said, “It’s already degraded. It’s not being put into productive economic use. It should be the public policy of the state of West Virginia to do something productive with those parcels to create jobs and help the economy. “I would think that with the goal of diversifying the economy and creating jobs that all of us share here, Democrat and Republican, that the Republican leadership would take a serious look at this.”

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