WV Division of Energy Sponsors Renewable Energy Conference

by Duane Nichols on May 13, 2016

Renewable Energy Conference at Marshall Univ.

Conference looks into renewable energy throughout West Virginia

From an Article by Fred Pace, Huntington Herald Dispatch, May 12, 2016

HUNTINGTON – West Virginia is No. 5 in the country in the amount of energy it produces, according to Jeff Herholdt, director of the West Virginia Division of Energy, and not all of it comes from the most commonly thought of places.

“While our major sources of energy are coal and natural gas, there are renewable energy opportunities that do offer the job potential and economic development opportunities as well,” Herholdt said. “We want to stimulate jobs and economic growth with the wealth of energy resources in West Virginia.”

The West Virginia Division of Energy (WVDOE) and the Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) at Marshall University, partnered to host the “Renewable Energy in West Virginia: Projects and Prospects in 2016″ conference Thursday at the Brad D. Smith Foundation Hall on Marshall’s campus.

“West Virginia has a competitive economic advantage in energy development,” Herholdt said. “This advantage extends to our renewable energy resources.” Renewables are both an exciting and daunting prospect, he said.

“All of these energy sources have to compete in the global market place, and coal and natural gas are major players,” Herholdt said. “However, there are niche markets and future opportunities for these renewable energy sources.”

One of those companies that currently offer alternative energy sources is Hamer Pellet Fuel Company in Kenova. The company sells premium grade hardwood West Virginia pellets – compressed biomass capsules that act as fuel – for residential and commercial applications. “We are having an immediate impact on jobs and the local economy,” said Todd Webb, sales manager for Hamer. “We have been manufacturing pellet fuel for over 25 years.”

Webb said for every 50,000 tons of pellet production, there are 171 direct and indirect jobs created. “That doesn’t count local retailers that sell pellet stoves,” he said.

Other speakers mentioned the growing demand for solar power with homeowners. The event also featured a panel discussion on expansion of renewables, which included Jim Fawcett, manager of Energy Efficiency & Alternative Energy Initiatives for Appalachian Power, or AEP.

“We are continuing to incorporate renewable energy sources into our mix,” Fawcett said. In 2012, AEP energy source breakdown showed 74 percent from coal, 15 percent from natural gas and 11 percent from hydro/wind sources. “This year, those figures change to 61 percent from coal, 20 percent from gas and 12 percent from hydro/wind sources,” he said.

Coal use will continue to decrease in AEP’s future mix, Fawcett said. “By 2025, our estimates show 53 percent from coal, 17 percent from gas, 10 percent from hydro and 16 percent from wind and solar,” he said. “There are many opportunities to continue to transform and evolve going forward, but we must find a plan to make it economically viable, reliable and sustainable in the future.

Fawcett said the cost to produce a megawatt hour of energy is $73 with wind, $95 with conventional coal, $144 with carbon capture coal, $73 to $100 with natural gas and $114 with solar. “We have to see how costs change in the future and see exactly what the new clean power plant rules are going to be,” he said.

George Carico, director of the WV Brownfield Assistance Center, Center for Environmental, Geotechnical and Applied Sciences, spoke about renewable energy projects on surface mined lands. “We are currently working on three initiatives, which are surface mine land property evaluations for new use, wind energy resource studies on surface mine lands and renewable energy and agricultural sub-grants on surface mine lands,” Carico said. “There are lots of surface mine lands with potential for reuse and redevelopment. Property owners are very open to new ideas.”

Fawcett said these surface mine lands present that exciting and daunting prospect. “The infrastructure is there to some degree and the land is there and available, but the challenge will be to construct it to make it competitive,” he said.

The event featured other presentations from West Virginia-based business, research and project development leaders in the realm of renewable energy. Jennifer Shand, director of CBER, said they have being working with the state’s Division of Energy to put on the conference. “We want to raise awareness about the projects and opportunities with renewable energy,” she said. “It’s an important part of the energy landscape and we want to get the word out about projects and prospects for renewable energy in West Virginia.”

Shand said attendees learned about a wide variety of projects underway in the areas of hydropower, solar, enhanced geothermal, biomass, CO2 uptake by forests and production of CO2 offsets through reforestation. Projects include current production and development efforts as well as ideas to expand future resource utilization.

“The WVDOE is responsible for advancing energy development in West Virginia, and part of the division’s focus is on renewable energy sources,” Herholdt said. “In order to support renewable energy development, the WVDOE co-hosts an energy conference with CBER on a bi-annual basis.”

In addition to Hamer Pellet Fuels, the conference featured speakers representing organizations including Advanced Hydro Solutions, Appalachian Power, CEGAS/WVBAC, Geostellar, the Marshall University Chemistry Department, STF Group, Inc., Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund, Inc., West Virginia University and West Virginia State University’s Energy and Environmental Science Institute.

Evan Hansen, president of Downstream Strategies, spoke about West Virginia renewable energy opportunities. “The reality is that if it is due to clean power plant rules or if it is other state’s rules to comply with clean power plants, we will mine less and use less coal in the future,” Hansen said. “At the same time, this will create opportunities for renewable energy sources for West Virginia and we must take advantage of those opportunities.”

Hansen said West Virginia is a diverse state. “We must make sure as West Virginia’s energy economy continues to evolve that we take this opportunity to create jobs, tax revenue and support our coalfield communities hardest hit with the loss of coal jobs,” he said. “I think everyone in West Virginia has that goal in common, which is to take advantage of all of our energy sources and develop jobs that are sustainable for the long-term.”

Hannah Vargason, with Natural Capital Investment Fund, also announced grants for energy audits and renewable energy development that are being provided through the Rural Energy for America Program. “The United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded 26 grants to help rural small businesses and agricultural producers across rural America conserve energy and develop renewable energy systems, ultimately reducing their carbon footprint, lowering overhead costs and helping to create jobs,” she said.

Robert Clark with Midwest Clean Energy Enterprise said the program will also help farms and small businesses right-size their energy systems and help with the installation costs for renewable energy equipment. “This is a significant opportunity for businesses and farmers in West Virginia to reduce their energy costs, keep jobs and grow jobs in the complicated economy we live in today,” Clark said.

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S. Thomas Bond May 14, 2016 at 8:55 am

It is good to see that wind is now the cheapest way to generate electricity, by Fawcett’s figures. Undoubtedly the externalized cost of coal and gas are ignored, such things as health effects and environmental effects, reduction in property values and effects on adjoining businesses. Actually, it is mitigation of health effects (SO2, mercury, other toxics) and water contamination, finally being recognized, that are killing coal.

I would like to see how they breakdown the cost of solar. If one follows the scientific literature, solar is not near the bottom of its cost at present. New efficiencies are constantly coming along. The real cost is manufacture, installation and maintenance. Are the abandoned strip mines being considered for solar? Cattle could be run around below the solar panels, too, giving a dual use for the land.


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