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Justice leaning toward signing solar bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday he is leaning toward signing a bill making it easier for companies to get a small portion of its electricity from solar power.

Bills establishing a pathway for a sliver of solar power in the state are moving in the Legislature at the request of the state Department of Commerce.

Justice, whose family is invested in the coal industry, said he understands alternative energy is a determining factor for many companies when deciding where to locate.

“You have many, many companies throughout this country, throughout this world, that will not come to a place if they can’t basically buy into a solar or alternative energy footprint,” he said.

The bills would clear out the current extensive application and review process for regulated utilities in West Virginia for expanding into solar generation. The cost of the construction of the solar generation would be passed on to the consumers. Charlotte Lane, chairwoman of the state Public Service Commission, has said that could add as little as 19 cents a month to a residential bill.

The coal industry and coal-backing legislators oppose the measure; coal supplies 90% of the state’s energy needs, while 8% comes from natural gas and the remaining percent from wind and hydroelectric sources.

Justice stressed he wants to ensure that the coal industry will not be hurt by the bill.

“I’ve very, very hopeful that all of us can get on board,” Justice said. “We don’t want to take away” any coal jobs.”

Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch and state Development Office executive director Mike Graney have both appeared before legislative committees to support the bill.

Gaunch said access to alternative energy is among the top priorities of companies being recruited by the state.

“Frankly, we don’t even make the cut if we can’t answer that question in the affirmative,” he said.

West Virginia Coal Association Vice President Chris Hamilton said on MetroNews “Talkline” his organization has concerns about the bill, and wants to make changes, but said the industry is not trying to block it.

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