Op-ed: Climate solution is economic opportunity for West Virginia
The future of West Virginia depends on diversifying our economy and ensuring that the inevitable energy transformation coming to the nation does not leave our great state behind.
West Virginians want to ensure a strong economic future for themselves and their families. They understand the economic and energy landscape has already changed dramatically in the last several years and continues to do so. Therefore, we all need to come together and identify solutions for ourselves and for generations to come.
Many of those solutions are right before us. Congress is debating what may be the most important bill to affect West Virginia in decades. And with it, there are commonsense solutions to protect West Virginia jobs, keep consumer electricity prices low and help our environment.
One important solution is known as Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) where carbon dioxide is captured directly from the exhaust of power plants and factories and safely stored underground or used in products. Carbon capture technology has been around for decades, and there are several successful operational projects around the world, but CCUS requires more research and support to reach its full potential. And it’s important that we realize the full potential of CCUS technology — because without it, we’ll find it difficult to smoothly transition many of the industries that are foundational to our economy as we strive to reach climate goals. But with it, West Virginia can be part of the energy transformation already under way.
Support for new, retrofitted or upgraded facilities that manufacture carbon capture and other advanced energy components and products will create new economic opportunities in our state. Targeted incentives can help ensure these new clean technology manufacturing jobs are created here in West Virginia, particularly if we can target the opportunities to areas that have lost a coal mine or have coal-fired plants that have been shut down.
Finally, we need policies that help address the root cause of the changing climate and the risks that come along with it. A new report found that West Virginia is one of the top four states at risk from flooding — a problem that will only grow worse as the climate continues to change.
We must significantly up the pace at which we deploy renewables to meet our energy needs — and create new economic opportunities by putting this renewable energy on former mine lands and coupling them with other economic investments. And we need to harness the power of our forests. Our forests and other natural lands can achieve up to a fifth of the emissions reductions we need by storing carbon in trees, wetlands, and soils.
Even with the dramatic increase in renewables to power our economy and harnessing the power of our forests to store carbon, we will need additional carbon-free sources of energy. There will also be some carbon-emitting industrial practices that simply cannot be eliminated, like steel and cement production. For this, we need CCUS.
A rapid transformation of the U.S. economy and the energy sector is already underway. In 2019, U.S. annual energy consumption from renewable sources exceeded coal consumption for the first time since before 1885. We have many tools available to ensure West Virginia can thrive in this new future. Congress must ensure that any legislation to address the climate challenge includes these critical tools. Now is the time for West Virginia to seize the opportunity before us.
Executive Director Thomas Minney and senior advisor Beth Wheatley work for the The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia.