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Op-ed: Up to us to move forward

As West Virginians, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity before us. The bipartisan infrastructure bill President Biden signed into law includes tens of billions in funding for cleantech investments, and the reconciliation bill, if passed, would further build upon these efforts. Taken together, these actions will have a massive impact on our country’s energy sector and have the potential to diversify and strengthen West Virginia’s economy with growth, job opportunities, and more resilient communities.

Investing in a clean energy economy goes beyond wind and solar energy. It also builds on and improves our existing infrastructure through updates to the power grid, additional grid storage, and a significant new program limiting methane leaks and pollutants from abandoned mines and wells — which stands to spur even more job opportunities. Thanks to Sen. Manchin’s leadership on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the infrastructure bill includes investments that will directly benefit West Virginians: $12 billion for carbon capture storage technologies that can be utilized at existing power plants, $84 million for geothermal demonstration projects in regions like Appalachia, and $200 million for wildland restoration around abandoned mine sites. Notably, the infrastructure package also includes funding for legacy coal communities for worker re-training and redevelopment of former coal sites. For decades these communities powered the country — now it’s our turn to strategically reinvest in them.

Without direct action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, scientists tell us we will see more frequent and intensified deadly weather catastrophes — such as the devastating flooding events our state knows all too well. Through volunteer work with the Red Cross after wildfires in California and hurricanes in Louisiana, I know first-hand the devastation and disruption that natural disasters can reap. The infrastructure bill includes investments to harden the grid and make our roads and bridges more resilient to these extreme weather threats, but we also need to reduce our emissions to mitigate the impacts of a changing climate. The reconciliation bill, as currently funded, would help with $555B in investments in clean energy deployment, in which West Virginia could play a big part.

The clean energy sector is one of the fastest growing labor sectors in the U.S. A recent report by E2 found that 7,704 new jobs per year (www. e2.org) could be added in West Virginia over the next five years through investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and grid modernization. This number could be even greater given direct investment from private corporations in new clean energy projects.

Today, the U.S. Energy Employment Report (www.energy.gov) tells us that 12,700 West Virginians work in energy efficiency, renewable energy, alternative fuels, advanced grid technologies, and energy storage. This modest but growing clean energy workforce makes our state ripe for advancing and deploying new technologies.

To be honest, at this moment in time, we have some barriers to aggressively move on these opportunities. Shifting our perspective is one of the biggest challenges. We have years of policies and regulations that tether us to existing paradigms and limit our ability to access and engage with new technologies. It would be a shame to lose this opportunity to other regions that are not limited by these restrictions.

In the last 15 years, I have personally engaged with the solar and renewable energy markets in West Virginia and nearby states. I believe that investing in renewable technologies not only helps the environment but is also a great financial decision. As traditional energy sources are phased out, the new technologies associated with renewable energy generation and improving efficiency will only accelerate.

I believe we have an opportunity to build on the momentum of these wins that Sen. Manchin has already delivered for West Virginia by getting the reconciliation bill across the finish line to open up additional economic opportunities. West Virginia companies and individuals need to lean in on this momentum and be part of the technology development, engineering, and construction of these projects. We can play a foundational role in delivering a new energy future to our country.

West Virginia is uniquely poised to be able to deliver this to the eastern seaboard — we’re already wired for it. We have the land and the natural resources to grasp these opportunities and have our workforce ready and willing to help. It’s up to us and our senators to participate in a big way in the future of power generation going forward, and the Build Back Better bill will help us reach that future faster.

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Charles Pickering of Williamstown is manager of Pickering Energy Solutions.

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