Fossil Fuels vs. Renewable Energy Development in West Virginia

by Duane Nichols on March 20, 2016

Fossil Fuels => CO2 => Global Warming => Climate Change

Renewable energy critical for state’s future

Letter to Editor, Dan Conant, Charleston Gazette Mail, March 16, 2016

The recent column in the Daily Mail opinion page published (Isaac Orr, Millennials misguided on energy, Feb. 15) was misinformed about the cost of renewable energy and its effect on West Virginia. Mr. Orr’s op-ed relies on an outdated view of renewable energy. It is no longer a matter of if renewable energy will grow.

Rather, it is a question of if West Virginia chooses to use its talents and skills to continue powering America throughout the next century. As a millennial who was born, raised, and returned to West Virginia, I think it’s important to share my generation’s view of the situation.

Last year, roughly two-thirds of new U.S. electricity generation came from renewable energy sources. The year before, just over half came from renewables — a clear sign the electricity market is diversifying. The data shows the market has decided that renewable energy is the right one.

Renewable energy is growing for a simple reason: people want more of it. The price of renewable energy has dropped to the point where it is cheaper than other sources. And it’s growing exponentially. The total amount of solar ever installed nationwide is now doubling every two years. Annual installations in 2015 were more than 20 times higher than in 2008.

In the last four years, the cost of installing solar panels has dropped 40 percent — since the late 1970s, the price of panels has declined by 99 percent. Wind continues to decline in price as well — 60 percent in the past five years. Once the systems are installed, we know exactly what the price of the fuel will be forever — zero.

Compared to the volatility of monopoly utility prices, a fixed price of zero sounds pretty good to most businesses, nonprofits and homeowners.

Mr. Orr’s comments about the intermittency of solar and wind are overblown. It’s always sunny somewhere, the wind is always blowing somewhere else. By connecting renewable energy to the grid, we even out the peaks and valleys. Our electric grid is getting smarter daily; with the price of storage falling and the ability to turn appliances on and off at a second’s notice, we can closely match supply with demand.

The jobs have followed the prices. Nationwide, more than 200,000 Americans work in solar (including me) — including engineers, designers, electricians and installers, with another 75,000 more working in wind. The coal industry and coal power plants, meanwhile, are at 140,000.

Solar is being installed faster and faster across West Virginia. We see it in the co-ops that have sprung up to allow homeowners to go solar together. We see it on the businesses that are taking control of their future. And yes, we even see it on churches, libraries and affordable housing organizations that my company, Solar Holler, works with.

Things have been taking off so quickly that Solar Holler recently launched a solar job training program in Wayne County with the nonprofit Coalfield Development Corporation to prepare young folks from coalfield communities for careers in the industry.

Renewable energy isn’t just important nationally — it’s critical to the future of our state. Since the 1950s, the coalfields have seen our young people leave year after year. It turned out the mechanization of our mines that required fewer and fewer workers.

As a result, West Virginia is the only state in the nation to have lost population in the last half century. Growing up, nearly all of my classmates dreamed of moving away — and most of them did. It doesn’t have to be that way. West Virginia has always been an energy state — even before coal, there was charcoal.

Our people have given sweat, blood, tears and lives to help build and power America. Reimagining ourselves not as a coal state, but as an energy state — including solar and wind — is critical if we are going to continue powering America.

We should be exporting renewable energy. We should be firing up shuttered mills to make solar racking and wind turbines. We should be fanning out to every hill and hollow to build a 21st century energy system. All we need is imagination (and a little encouragement and support) as millennial West Virginians lead the way into the future.

### Dan Conant is the founder of Solar Holler based in Shepherdstown, WV

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Panel Discussion: A Global and Local Conversation on Coal

The Heinrich Boell Foundation, the Sierra Club and the West Virginia Community Development Hub cordially invite you to this panel discussion in Fairmont, WV.
Tuesday, March 22, 7:00 pm-8:30 pm  at I-79 High Technology Park, Fairmont, WV (5000 NASA Blvd, 5th floor, Fairmont, WV 26554). Note: Refreshments will be served from 6:30pm onwards.


<<< Rebecca Bertram, Program Director, Heinrich Boell Foundation

<<< Bill Price, Environmental Justice Program, Beyond Coal to Clean Energy Campaign

<<< Daile Boulis, Resident of Loudendale, West Virginia

<<< Amanda Workman, Director of Community Engagement,WV Community Development Hub

<<< Moderation: Erica Peterson, Environment Reporter, WFPL News

CONTEXT: Global coal trends continue to influence local coal discussions. Coal contributes more to climate change than any other energy resource, and burning it is the largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions in the world. Its extraction, processing and burning are inescapably dirty: the entire coal-to-energy process generates more pollution and destructive impacts for communities, workers and the environment. This panel discussion will examine the relationship between global and local coal trends and focus on opportunities for local economic and clean transitions.

Please RSVP to assure a place in the auditorium. Telephone: 202-462-7512

Email: or

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The Heinrich Boell Foundation is part of the Green political movement that has developed worldwide as a response to the traditional politics of socialism, liberalism, and conservatism. Our main tenets are ecology and sustainability, democracy and human rights, self-determination and justice. We place particular emphasis on gender democracy, meaning social emancipation and equal rights for women and men. We are also committed to equal rights for cultural and ethnic minorities and to the societal and political participation of immigrants. Finally, we promote non-violence and proactive peace policies.

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