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Legislative Update from WV Environmental Council
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by Jim Kotcon, Energy Committee Chair | 2009

Editor’s note: As we went to press, the first week of the state legislature had just ended. But to stay current, be sure and go to the WV Environmental Council’s website at www.wvecouncil.org. You can sign up for a weekly update.

Gov. Manchin Proposes “Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard”

In his State of the State address, Governor Joe Manchin proposed a bill that would require utilities in West Virginia to supply 25 % of their electricity from “Alternative and Renewable” sources by 2025.

Unfortunately, the devil is in the details. Manchin’s bill includes a variety of fossil fuel sources as “alternative” energy, including plants that burn waste coal, coalbed methane and even tire-derived fuels. In fact, Manchins’ bill does not appear to actually mandate ANY renewable energy sources. While there are incentives for renewables, and for carbon sequestration, no actual mandate exists that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In some respects, Manchin’s bill would be a step backward from current rules. For example, his net-metering proposal appears to open up net-metering incentives to a variety of fossil fuel sources.

In summary, Manchin’s proposed legislation is flawed, but fixable. Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards have been adopted in a number of states, and the West Virginia Environmental Council is calling for a mandate to use 20 % renewable energy by 2020.

What You Can Do:
Call, write or talk to your state legislators (contact info on back of newsletter, or at www.legis.state.wv.us ) Ask that the bill mandate at least 20 % renewable energy by 2020. Limit net-metering to renewable energy sources. Eliminate waste coal or other fossil fuel sources that emit greenhouse gases from qualified “alternative” fuels. Call 304-594-3322 for more details.


Reform the WV Public Service Commission

We learned about some important flaws in West Virginia’s transmission line siting process during the on-going debates over the TrAILCo transmission line. Current law does not require an adequate assessment of alternatives such as demand-side management (energy conservation) as an alternative to new transmission lines. Applicants do not consider indirect impacts from emissions of greenhouse gases or other air pollutants associated with the electricity their lines would carry. The WV Public Service Commission (PSC) has no good way to address scenic impacts, in spite of the fact that everyone acknowledges these lines are ugly and scar the landscape. Most importantly, current law does not require the PSC to adequately balance the cost to the ratepayer from these new investments.

Current federal laws make this bad situation worse. The National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor (NIETC) adopted by the US Department of Energy allows utilities to earn “incentive rates of return” on proposed transmission lines, even if they are never built.

That means utilities are guaranteed a profit on whatever they spend to promote a new line, whether it is needed or not. The normal concerns for investors or market restraints are removed. NIETC also allows utilities that are denied approval for a line to seek approval from the federal government. This, even if a state agency rejects a line because it is unneeded, the utility may get it approved anyway. This forces state utility commissions to negotiate the best settlement they can get, because if they deny approval, the line would get approved anyway and the state would lose the ability to negotiate a better deal.

West Virginia will face these issues again when the PATH line application is submitted to the PSC later this year. To address at least part of the inequities, the WV Sierra Club is seeking legislative changes that would require the PSC to consider greenhouse gas emissions, energy conservation alternatives, scenic impacts, and the impact to consumers.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Call, write or talk to your state legislators (contact info on back of newsletter, or at www.legis.state.wv.us ) Ask that they support legislation to reform the PSC’s transmission line siting process. Support legislation to require that alternatives to new lines be considered, including demand-side reduction, and that the PSC balance the need for new lines against environmental effects such as scenic impacts, greenhouse gas emissions, and other adverse environmental impacts. Call 304-594-3322 for more details.


Bottle Bill Introduced

Senate Bill 237 was introduced to establish a deposit on beverage containers. Similar laws are in effect in 11 other states, and help reduce littering and encourage recycling. A similar bill should be introduced in the WV House of Delegates soon, so  check http://www.wvbottlebill.org/ for the latest info on how to help.

No Nukes In WV

For the last 13 years, West Virginia has banned construction of nuclear power plants, but a bill to repeal that law was introduced on Feb. 12. Sponsored by Senators  McCabe, Foster, Plymale, Caruth, Sypolt, and Wells, Senate Bill 240 undoes the landmark protections enacted in West Virginia. A recent study by the General Accounting Office estimated that the risk of a utility defaulting on proposals for nuclear power plants was greater than 50 %, and others have warned that a utility proposing such a plant would jeopardize its credit rating and increase ratepayer costs. No permanent disposal for nuclear wastes has yet been established.

What You Can Do:
Call your state Senators and tell them No Nukes! Ask these Senators to withdraw their co-sponsorship of SB 240.

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