January 27, 2015

West Virginia Democrats Want Impact Study on Repeal of Alternative Energy Law

Legislation to repeal a five-year-old law that hasn't fully taken effect yet is moving through the State Senate. But Democratic leaders are calling for a economic impact study on repealing the measure, just as their GOP counterparts have called for the same studies on bills introduced this session. 

The Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, championed by then-Gov. Joe Manchin, required utility companies to earn credits by producing electricity from alternative fuel sources, including advanced coal technology, coal bed methane, waste coal, coal gasification, natural gas and pumped storage from hydroelectric projects. 

The Act also allows for "net metering," credits given from utility companies back to residents who produce their own electricity through solar panels or windmills. Those residents can sell electricity to their providers, as well. 

Measures in both houses now preserve net metering in the West Virginia Code. 

Called the "West Virginia Cap and Trade Law" during the campaign last year, the standard's "cap" is generally thought to be the 25-percent minimum requirement of alternative fuels and the trade is ability for small utility companies to buy or trade energy credits. 

The federal push for cap and trade calls for capture of carbon emissions, with profit incentives for doing so, and gives those companies the ability to sell or trade their unused credits. 

Former House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, called the original bill a "toothless tiger" last week, and said its repeal would not help state residents in coal-producing counties. 

This week, Miley sent a letter to House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, asking for an economic impact study on the bill's repeal. “It’s important to know whether the repeal of the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Act accomplishes meaningful results, or whether the repeal of the legislation is mere campaign fluff,” he said.

“This legislation has been touted by many members of the Legislature and coal industry representatives as a vital jobs-saving bill for the coal industry,” Miley said. “I believe it is imperative for members of the Legislature to know the real impact of this legislation — to coal miners and their families and to other industries that may be affected by the repeal — prior to being asked to cast their votes.”

The House of Delegates adopted changes to the House Rules on the first day of session that included a provision (House Rule 95C) that permits the Speaker to request an Economic Impact Statement on any piece of legislation to determine how many jobs would be gained or lost as a result of the legislation and any effect on wages and compensation.

Sen. Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, the former Senate president, likewise made the same challenge to leadership in the upper chamber Monday morning. Kessler said he favors repeal, but wants to see if the Legislature is passing "sound public policy."

Sen. President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, said the study is unlikely. 

As chair of the Committee on Energy, Industry and Mining, Sen. Jeff Mullins, R-Raleigh, said repealing the law allows free markets to decide what fuels energy companies use.

"(I)f an energy company decides that coal is the cheapest way to provide energy, they will not be limited by state government in ability to provide energy through coal. This in turn will ensure that no coal jobs in West Virginia are limited now or at any time in the future by a cap on coal-fueled energy," Mullins said. 

Mullins said he is happy that the committee was able to reach a compromise on net metering so that consumers who generate their own power are given credit for that.
The Alternative Energy Act took effect Jan. 1. 

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