Under the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, West Virginia must cut carbon pollution 29 percent by 2030. This is a tall order considering the state depends on high-carbon energy resources for 95 percent of its energy portfolio.
According to calculations by Clean Power Progress, without new energy infrastructure, West Virginia could face a 30-percent power deficit, putting 2.8 million homes in the dark. Compounding this problem is misguided opposition to expanding West Virginia’s natural gas infrastructure. Despite being a cleaner-burning fuel that is known to help reduce carbon emissions, natural gas only comprises a fraction of the state’s active energy resources today.
Pragmatic environmentalists will realize that something has to give, and that renewables cannot be a blanket solution for a state that faces some of the country’s more complex topographical delivery challenges and severe weather events year-round. Renewables are a piece of the puzzle, but they can’t realistically fill that entire 30-percent shortfall.
Solar panels – which typically work best on flat terrain – would have to cover an area five times the size Charleston to close the energy deficit. Altitude and gradient issues aside, such a project would cost $49 billion which is a nonstarter in a state with a struggling economy, still recovering from devastating floods.
West Virginia can fill the gap with shovel-ready natural gas projects, such as the Moundsville Power Plant, Atlantic Coast, Mountaineer Xpress and ET Rover pipeline. These projects will boost the state economy with nearly 15,000 jobs, $2.3 billion in investments, and provide the energy to power 177,000 homes. Additionally, the expansion of natural gas infrastructure will ensure lower monthly energy bills for consumers in the region, as natural gas is two-thirds the cost of wind and one-third the cost of solar power.
With natural gas expansion, West Virginia can meet Clean Power Plans and energy needs affordably.