Reauthorized government authority could run power plants, but Speaker says it should not

Reauthorized government authority could run power plants, but Speaker says it should not

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The Speaker of the House of Delegates isn’t sure what, specifically, the governor intends to do with the newly-reactivated Public Energy Authority, but Roger Hanshaw says the agency should stop short of its full power of acquiring and running energy transmission projects.

“I think the answer is no — full stop no — on that,” Hanshaw said today.

“We’ve seen in other states what happens when the government gets involved in producing energy. I think we want the private sector doing that. I think we want private sector energy providers doing what they do well.”

Gov. Jim Justice over the weekend announced the reestablishment of the Public Energy Authority, which was created in the 1980s under the administration of Gov. Arch Moore to build coal-fired power plants but eventually fizzled. The authority was reconstituted during the Manchin administration but then met irregularly.

Gov. Jim Justice

Justice broadly described the authority’s ability to support coal and gas production in West Virginia but didn’t describe in greater detail what he actions he wants the authority to take.

“The world is crying out for energy today,” Justice said.

The authority’s broad powers would allow it to acquire or spin off any electric power project or natural gas transmission project. The authority could also finance electric or natural gas transmission projects by making secured loans. Or it could issue bonds to finance costs of power projects. The board also has eminent domain authority for such projects.

Roger Hanshaw

Hanshaw is among those interested in hearing what the authority will actually do.

“I think we’re waiting to find out,” Hanshaw said. “It has a pretty broad statutory authorization. It can do a lot of things.”

“The first thing I thought was, ‘Well good, we need a dedicate group of folks in West Virginia who are going to be looking at all the federal money becoming available for energy sources of all kinds — for things like mine reclamation, for things like abandoned well plugging, all the things coming out of Congress now that we need to be taking advantage of in West Virginia.”

One of West Virginia’s big power suppliers, American Electric Power, is also waiting to hear. AEP has increasingly committed to renewable energy sources over the past years and anticipates maintaining that commitment over the long term. The company maintains, though, that the transition away from fossil fuels will be gradual.

Phil Moye

AEP says it looks forward to learning more about what Justice intends.

“It’s been more than a decade since the West Virginia Public Energy Authority was last active and a lot has changed since then. We look forward to talking with the Governor’s administration to learn in greater detail about their plans and expectations,” said Phil Moye, spokesman for AEP.

The governor’s announcement named four members of the Public Energy Authority board: Chris Hamilton, the current president of the West Virginia Coal Association; Charlie Burd, executive director of the Gas and Oil Association of West Virginia; Jeff Allen, an executive with a mineral resources company; and Jeff Herholdt, former director of the West Virginia Division of Energy who is also a former chairman of the Energy Authority.

As a matter of symbolism, the governor made the announcement at the West Virginia Coal Association’s annual conference, which was last weekend at The Greenbrier Resort, which Justice’s family owns.

Chris Hamilton

The West Virginia Coal Association released a statement praising the announcement today, including a reference to the broad powers.

“The WVPEA can help stabilize our industrial, power generating and carbon manufacturing assets as we research and deploy innovative carbon capture technologies,” Hamilton stated.

“Governor Justice has pulled another rabbit out of his hat by recognizing the unlimited ability the Public Energy Authority has to secure and grow our energy assets.”

Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, said those goals may not jibe with current energy trends. Hansen is president of Downstream Strategies, an economic and environmental consulting firm in Morgantown.

“Coal’s been good to West Virginia for decades. But there’s going to be less and less of it burning in the future. And doubling down on coal right now is not a great economic development strategy,” Hansen said today on The Watchdog Morning Show in the Wheeling area.

Hansen noted that a current debate has focused on whether three coal-fired power plants in West Virginia would be shut down relatively soon, in 2028, or years from now in 2040. Either way, he said, the power plants won’t be in service forever.

“Even utilities like AEP that had a very coal-heavy portfolio are committed to being carbon neutral within a couple of decades, and they can’t do that while continuing to burn coal,” Hansen said.

“That’s one thing that’s so puzzling to me is the transition is happening. I’m not saying you should like it or not, but it’s happening. Reauthorizing this board and getting distracted by trying to raise people’s hopes that we’ll be able to burn more and more coal to generate electricity in the future, that’s puzzling to me too.”



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