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Solar bill heads to House as utilities await its fate

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The bill that sets up a system for rapid development of solar as an energy resource in West Virginia will be assigned to a House of Delegates committee for consideration during Monday’s floor session.

Chris Beam

The measure, SB 583. passed the state Senate unanimously Friday. It would create the Renewable Energy Facilities Program through the state Public Service Commission. Incentives would be available for utilities who go solar.

The measure also cuts through the red tape a utility currently faces in the approval process through the PSC and allows for Appalachian Power and First Energy to build as many as four 50 megawatt solar energy plants.

Appalachian Power President and CEO Chris Beam said within the last few years a varied energy portfolio has become a top priority for many companies including many of those the state is trying to convince to locate in West Virginia.

“I would say five years ago we didn’t hear about this a lot but as things continue to change we are starting to hear about this more and more,” Beam said last week on MetroNews “Talkline.” Actually it’s becoming now, not more of a question, but more of a requirement.”

Appalachian Power currently has coal fired power plants, natural gas plants, hydro generation and wind but no solar. The bill would allow solar to be added in an expedited way.

Beam said the bill has some wisdom built into it. It only allows his company and First Energy to build one 50 megawatt solar plant at a time. He said a second plant could not be built until all of the energy is being used from the first plant. Up to four could be constructed.

“If you don’t have anyone that wants any more you don’t build any more and you don’t subject any customers to any higher risks,” Beam said.

Appalachian Power would contract with someone to build the plant and then buy it back from them. Customers would pay for that cost in their bills and then eventually only those who use the power generated from the solar plant would pay.

“Once it’s in rates then we would then contract out those megawatts to the businesses that want the renewable energy credit and then those folks would pay for that facility and the cost born by the normal customer that would not want to participate in renewable energy would not be paying for it,” Beam said.

The bill does contain language that says renewable energy sources cannot take the place of current capacity at coal-fired power plants.

State Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch said the renewable question comes up in just about every conversation they have with companies they are recruiting.

“There are companies that are willing to pay more for their electricity if they can put the green stamp of approval,” Gaunch said.

“It has nothing to do with how we feel about coal. We love coal.”

The bill has less than three weeks to make it through the House of Delegates before the March 7 ending of the 60-day regular legislative session.

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