WV Public Service Commission Should Serve the Public Interest

by admin on March 28, 2023

“Climate, Jobs & Justice” are the Three Pillars of the WV Climate Alliance

The choice and the burden of energy in West Virginia

From the Letter to Editor of Perry Bryant, Charleston Gazette, March 28, 2023

Last year, Charlotte Lane, chairwoman of the West Virginia Public Service Commission, wrote an op-ed claiming that burning coal is cheaper than installing renewables, such as wind and solar. That really depends on what costs are included, and Lane failed to include the harm that burning coal causes — costs that renewables don’t incur. Plus, a lot has happened since she wrote her op-ed.

Lane’s basic argument is that solar and wind are intermittent sources of energy while coal is available all the time. The myth of coal’s super reliability was pierced recently when Standard & Poor’s reported that one of three coal-fired units at Harrison Power plant and two of three coal-fired units at John Amos were shut down during part or all of the frigid polar vortex in West Virginia last December — just when we needed their energy the most.

Lane also dismissed battery storage as too expensive for storing solar and wind energy when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. However, battery storage technology is rapidly evolving. Form Energy, for example, recently announced that it is opening a battery manufacturing facility in Weirton to make batteries that can store, and then discharge, power for 100 hours at a cost of one-tenth of lithium-ion batteries, the type of batteries utilities currently use. If Form Energy can deliver on its claims, it will make renewables very reliable at a very reasonable price.

I do agree with Lane that we should consider the cost of battery storage when comparing the cost of renewables versus the cost of coal. But we also should consider the cost of the harm that occurs from burning coal.

These costs are substantial. The West Virginia University College of Law’s Center on Energy and Sustainable Development found that almost 100 deaths can be avoided in West Virginia in 2035 by adopting renewable sources of energy, instead of relying on burning coal for our electricity.

What’s the cost of these avoidable deaths? And what are the additional costs associated with global warming caused primarily by burning coal and other fossil fuels — including increased severity of flooding, longer lasting and more extreme heat waves, more intense hurricanes, etc.?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that the social cost of carbon — that is the total amount of damages from emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere — is $190 per ton of carbon dioxide.

The five coal-fired power plants under the jurisdiction of the PSC emitted 38 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2021 according to the Energy Information Administration, and caused $7.2 billion in damage using the social cost of carbon. The John Amos plant in Putnam County alone emitted 11 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2021 causing $2.1 billion in damages.

The social cost and resulting damages from emissions from solar and wind? Zero. ~ It’s a lot easier to claim that coal is cheaper than wind, solar and battery storage when you don’t include $7 billion in annual damages that coal-fired power plants cause with their emissions.

To be fair to Lane, neither the emergence of Form Energy’s breakthrough on new battery development nor the EPA’s proposed social cost of carbon was available when she wrote her op-ed last year.

West Virginia is at a crossroads. We can double down on burning coal, with all its adverse effects, or we can transition to clean energy. For the next 10 years, the federal government will provide tax incentives to partially offset the cost of utility companies installing solar, wind, geothermal and other carbon-free sources of energy. This window of opportunity shuts in 2032. After that, West Virginia utility customers will be stuck with the entire bill for developing new sources of electricity.

To avoid huge cost increases to consumers, we need leadership from Lane and West Virginia’s utilities. The choice is theirs. But the cost savings from adopting clean energy or the true cost of burning coal will be ours.

>>> Perry Bryant lives in Charleston. He is a co-founder and leader of the West Virginia Climate Alliance.


SEE ALSO: PSC orders audit of Mon Power, Potomac Edison lobbying expenses, Mike Tony, Charleston Gazette, March 28, 2023

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

WV Citizens Action Group March 28, 2023 at 12:13 pm

Inflation Reduction Act Roadshow – Morgantown

May 4, 2023 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Come to learn about how individuals, municipalities, and organizations in West Virginia can benefit from millions of dollars of investments contained in the Inflation Reduction Act.

Last summer, Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act which includes historic investments in clean energy, energy efficiency, and community development initiatives.

At these events, community members and elected officials will have the opportunity to learn from experts from around the state about how to put these investments to use in homes and communities.

WHAT: FREE informational event
WHEN: Thursday, May 4th from 6:00pm to 8:00pm
WHERE: Suncrest United Methodist (479 Van Voorhis Rd, Morgantown, WV, 26505)


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: