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Energy: Investment in renewables is vital to state’s future

West Virginians understand how much we owe the generations of coal miners who have kept our — and the rest of the country’s — lights on. Our emotional response to the idea anyone would want to “put a lot of miners and coal companies out of business,” sparked a political wave most did not expect.

But we have also known for generations that there must be more; that our state MUST diversify our economy and make other changes as it moved forward, rather than simply looking back.

Lawmakers know, deep in their hearts, coal is not going to rebound to levels once seen in our state. Those who say differently are cruelly manipulating a struggling population in hopes of gaining votes.

Others are willing to face the challenge honestly, and bills in the state Senate and House of Delegates are aimed at making a small start on that task. If enacted, they would allow the state Public Service Commission to expedite the agency’s process for approving new solar power generation facilities.

The bills would not grant subsidies in any way to the solar power industry. They would provide no tax breaks or other incentives. They would only snip a bit of red tape from the PSC process. They would allow such expedited treatment for only 400 megawatts of generating capacity — less than 3% of the state’s electricity.

It seems as though some employers may already be looking toward those possibilities, as Energy Harbor, which recently acquired the Pleasants Power Station, has a goal to expand its energy portfolio on the site.

“The good news is Energy Harbor wants to own it. They want to see that plant thrive and keep it open for generations to come,” said Pleasants County Commission President Jay Powell. “I think they’re in a position where they can continue to work on expanding and provide other sources and we’ve got the ground to do that potentially up here.”

While discussion so far appears to involve hydro electric power and natural gas, one must wonder whether an encouragement by lawmakers to explore solar power might give them ideas for an even more diversified use of that land — and even more stability in safeguarding hundreds of jobs.

Critics say the bills are a betrayal of the coal industry. They are not.

Even coal operator Gov. Jim Justice understands diversification is necessary.

Those who rely on Pleasants Power and the many other similar facilities throughout the state should encourage their lawmakers to support renewables legislation.

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