Economic Trends Show West Virginia Can Regain Throne as Nation's Powerhouse

By Swint, Howard | Sunday Gazette-Mail, March 4, 2018 | Go to article overview

Economic Trends Show West Virginia Can Regain Throne as Nation's Powerhouse


Swint, Howard, Sunday Gazette-Mail


As renewable energy sources approach economic parity with fossil fuels for power generation, West Virginia still retains strong competitive advantages for meeting the nation's energy needs.

And from an environmental perspective, these competitive advantages are multifaceted and reach beyond just the electric utility industry into a rapidly expanding segment of the transportation sector of the economy.

Perhaps understated, one of West Virginia's strongest energy positions stems from its robust network of interstate high-voltage transmission lines coupled with the fact that coal will still generate a sizable portion of the nation's electrical power decades into the future - despite renewables' near-economic equivalence today.

In fact, long-term forecasts for domestic energy consumption indicate that coal will generate roughly the same amount of electric power as "other renewable energy sources by 2040, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The reasons for the adoption lag time center on the complexities associated with constructing thousands of utility-scale green energy facilities as well as the massive connector infrastructure required to integrate them into the national grid.

Accordingly, existing West Virginia power plants can not only provide the "base-load required to further advance the integration of wind- and solar-based facilities (by mitigating their intermittent supply shortcomings) but the state also offers a number of industrial-scale former strip mine sites well-suited for renewable development.

Furthermore, the massive Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas fields also offer strong economic and environmental advantages - and not just through the displacement of coal for power generation - as its industrial gases are already serving as an alternative bridge energy source across several industries.

As background on the history of natural gas' environmental standing, Massachusetts Institute of Technology published a report several years ago stating that replacing coal with natural gas in power plants was, "the most cost-effective way of reducing CO2 emissions in the power sector.

That was followed by a Union of Concerned Scientists study that found methane, the primary component of dry natural gas, is in its raw state a potent greenhouse gas, and "34 times stronger than CO2 at trapping heat.

Accordingly, a more accurate accounting of total greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas should factor in fugitive leaks from wellhead through distribution and "losses must be kept below 3.2 percent for natural gas power plants to have lower life cycle emissions than new coal plants.

The study concluded that, given these thresholds, industry best practices "are available to reduce much of the leaking methane, but deploying such technology would require new policies and investments. …

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