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No Escape from Fossil Fuels: SB 188 Facilitates Natural Gas Power Plants

In West Virginia, environmentalists need to be realistic about how far the state can depart from fossil fuel power generation. Much of the state’s economy and many jobs are tied up in fossil fuels, both coal and natural gas. Currently, West Virginia relies on coal far more than any other state in the nation for electricity generation. Coal comprised 91% of the state’s electricity generation in 2021, well above Missouri, the next heaviest user of coal. All this is cemented by the powerful fossil fuel lobbies.

But competition between coal and gas interests, as well as the inevitable decline of coal, are leading some legislators to nudge the state toward more use of relatively cleaner natural gas.  West Virginia is the nation’s fourth-largest producer of natural gas, but only 4% of the state’s electricity generation in 2021 was gas-generated.  Proponents of gas generation complain that West Virginia offers fewer sites for gas power plants than surrounding states.  This “state-vs.-state” competition argument always seems to have particular persuasiveness with West Virginia legislators.  But the coal industry is pushing back against any favoring of gas.

SB 188, sponsored by Sen. Charles Trump (R-Morgan), would direct the Department of Economic Development Secretary to identify and designate sites considered appropriate for natural gas electric generation projects. An amendment offered by Sen. David Stover (R-Wyoming) to include coal in this site designation process was defeated in the Senate Economic Development Committee. The bill would also expedite the approval process for new plants.

SB 188 is backed by the West Virginia Manufacturer’s Association and the gas industry.  Conservation West Virginia has taken no position.  We favor shifting to cleaner fuel sources, even cleaner gas fuel over coal.  We recognize that increasing natural gas power generation would lower greenhouse gas emissions. But we are concerned by the unduly fast approval processes mandated for gas plant applications in SB 188, which we think will not allow opponents of a particular site a fair chance at influencing the decision.

As of February 17, SB 177 is only a few steps away from the Governor’s desk.