Legislature Once Again Fails State Energy Businesses

Although the rest of the US has demonstrated that the fastest growing energy sectors in the US involve businesses investing in energy efficiency and solar power installation, the WV Legislature has once again bowed to the dying fossil fuel industry.

Legislators Say No to Tax Credits, Except for Billionaire Coal Baron

A bill was introduced simultaneously in the House and the Senate (HB 4126 & SB 54) and would have provided tax credit for businesses investing in fossil fueled generators for use during power company failures.  Despite citizen attempts to have the bills amended to include solar power systems with battery backup, the bills never came up in committee so amendments could not be offered.

In addition to the emergency preparedness tax credit, solar power lobbyists discussed with restoring WV’s $2000 tax credit for renewable power installations.  This tax credit had expired last year without being reauthorized by the Legislature.  Lobbyists were told that because of the projected budget deficit, no new tax credits were being considered this year.

Of course, this statement proved patently untrue as legislators waived all rules concerning the normal procedures for bills in either house inserted special amendments and approved a multi-million dollar tax credit for billionaire coal operator Jim Justice and his luxury resort on the final day of the legislative session.  Legislators and former Gov. Manchin had created the state’s overall fiscal crisis themselves by engineering the phase out of state corporate income taxes which have reduced state revenues significantly for out of state corporations and Mr. Justice’s many business ventures.

Sen. Facemire Kills Solar Carve Out

SB 471 was taken up in the Senate Energy, Industry and Mining Committee this year.  This bill was designed to create a solar carve out in WV’s Coal Promotion Portfolio Standard.  The solar carve out bill would have turned WV’s coal subsidizing law into a real renewable portfolio standard by requiring WV’s two Ohio-based electric holding companies to buy a required amount of solar generated electricity or purchase credits from WV solar power producers.   Although the bill was taken up by the EIM Committee at the last minute, Chairman Facemire deep-sixed the bill by referring it to a coal dominated subcommittee.

Legislators Give PR Gift to FirstEnergy

There was one bright spot in this year’s legislative result.  For the last three years, citizens and lobbyists for Energy Efficient West Virginia have tried to get the Legislature to pass a law requiring the WV PSC to require WV power companies to produce integrated resource plans on a regular basis.  As used in more than 26 other states, IRPs allow regulators to pressure power companies to invest in energy efficiency rather than building much more expensive new generating capacity.

Despite some help from House Judiciary Chairman Tim Manchin, the coal industry and Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo managed to stonewall any progress toward this sensible energy policy.  AEP was willing to discuss compromise language in both 2012 and 2013, but FirstEnergy lobbyists weren’t even willing to discuss the possibility of supporting any form of the bill.  Sen. Palumbo and the power companies even invited WV Coal Association lobbyist Bill Raney into a private meeting of the Judiciary Committee’s Democratic caucus to scare senators with false claims that IRP will “kill coal jobs” (a paraphrase).  Mr. Raney didn’t even know what integrated resource planning was, but that was enough to spook the committee in 2012.

On the day of the final deadline for bills to be taken up in their committees of origin, FirstEnergy lobbyists came up with language for the IRP bill, HB 2803, and the House Government Organization Committee passed the power company bill.  House Judiciary (chaired by Del. Manchin) waived the bill’s referral to that committee and the bill went to the House floor, where it passed.  The bill then went on to the Senate and passed there as well.

FirstEnergy’s committee substitute for HB 2803, which will probably become law following the Governor’s signature, is a watered down version of the original bill and also provides for at least a five year special exemption for FirstEnergy.  The only positive provision in the bill is the requirement that power companies identify both demand side and supply side resources to meet their projected demand.  More specific requirements and provision for public input were wiped out of the committee substitute by FirstEnergy, AEP and power company friendly House Gov Org committee members.

It will now be up to the WV PSC to write new rules for the implementation of integrated resource planning in WV.

Ohio-based FirstEnergy’s motivation for caving on integrated resource planning was pretty clear.  The company has been a public relations disaster for the last several years.  It took rate payer money, along with its predecessor Allegheny Energy, for years and failed to invest it in maintenance of its WV distribution system.  Repeated blackouts have hit WV customers hard.  FirstEnergy’s electric rates have risen steadily as a result of the company’s heavy dependence on increasingly expensive coal and obsolete coal fired plants.  The collapse of FirstEnergy’s billing system following the merger with Allegheny Energy would be laughable, if it hadn’t caused economic hardship across FirstEnergy’s WV customer base.  The dumping of the Harrison coal plant on WV customers will only lead to more rate increases in the future.  FirstEnergy has consistently stonewalled efforts at the WV PSC to get the company to invest in energy efficiency programs, despite the fact that these programs would be paid for with rate payer money.

With HB 2803, FirstEnergy saw a way to score some much needed PR points, after the company’s lobbyists had largely gutted the bill.

WV politicians demonstrated again in 2014 how dangerously out of step they are with other states across the US when it comes to energy policy.  WV remains chained to obsolete technologies and the shrinking coal industry continues to drag down the state’s economy and public health.  We continue to slip further and further behind, and WV’s solar power industry looks for business opportunities in other states as the WV Legislature continues its assault on some of our most innovative businesses.

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