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The Oracle of Omaha Finds Almost Heaven

Governor Jim Justice has announced yet another major green energy economic development project in West Virginia.

BHE Renewables, a Berkshire Hathaway Energy business, is buying the old Ravenswood Aluminum plant site in Jackson County, where it will build a large solar farm to generate renewable electricity for industrial customers. (The company is contracting with American Electric Power to provide back-up.)

BHE Renewables first customer is also a Berkshire Hathaway Energy business: Precision Castparts Corporation.  PCC will make titanium products for aerospace and other industries.

The Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway is Warren Buffett, the most successful investor in the country’s history. Interestingly, he must still read his own mail, since it was a letter from West Virginia State Senator Glenn Jeffries (D, Putnam) to Buffett about the benefits of investing in West Virginia that piqued his interest.

Justice said this is a $500 million investment that will initially create several hundred jobs. However, state and company officials expect the workforce to grow as more companies locate on the site.

“This is just the beginning,” said Alicia Knapp, president and chief executive of BHE Renewables during Tuesday’s announcement. The optimism is warranted given the expanding interest by businesses and industries utilizing renewables.

Earlier this year, Apple announced it reached its goal of powering all its facilities world-wide with renewables. As the Wall Street Journal reported, “Apple is just one of many global corporations trying to cut energy consumption and shift to renewable power, including wind and solar, both to cut costs and slow climate change.”

Additionally, corporate boards are under increasing pressure to go greener while major investment companies, like Blackrock and Vanguard Group, are pushing energy efficiency and sustainability.

In short, going greener is now good for business, and good for West Virginia.

The BHE Renewables and PCC announcement is the latest in a series of green economic development news in the state. Add in a planned Pure Watercraft electric boat factory in Brooke County, the GreenPower electric school bus plant in South Charleston, and the Sparkz battery plant in Taylor County and you have positive signs of alternative energy-related industries taking root in the state.

Coal and gas remain in high demand, domestically and around the world. That is not going to change any time soon. Even with the dramatic expansion of renewables, traditional sources of  baseload fuel will still be needed to ensure reliability and meet the growing need for even more energy.

That continual demand for fossil fuels is good for the state. And now West Virginia is opening a new and exciting energy frontier that will contribute to the much-needed diversification of the state’s economy.

Oh, and if the Oracle of Omaha is interested in economic opportunities in West Virginia, that should send a powerful message about the Mountain State to the rest of the investing world.



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