In response to a research project being conducted at West Virginia University, the House of Delegates passed HB 4098 on February 10, 2022. This bill sets up a regulatory structure for geothermal energy in the state. Geothermal energy is the Earth’s heat reached by drilling wells several miles deep. WVU has acquired a $7.25 million federal grant to explore the potential for geothermal energy in West Virginia.
WVU’s immediate objective is to determine whether campus buildings can be heated by geothermal energy. Wells a mile or more deep can be drilled into underground reservoirs to generate steam and hot water that can be utilized for a variety of applications, including electricity generation, direct use, and heating and cooling.
Most geothermal reservoirs are located in the western part of the country, but a 2016 study found that north central West Virginia is a hot spot with substantially higher subsurface temperatures than other states in the East. Developing geothermal energy could make West Virginia a center for low-carbon manufacturing.
HB 4098 gives the Department of Environmental Protection the responsibility to develop a regulatory scheme. The bill declares that geothermal energy is a new resource, neither mineral nor water-related. Ownership of the geothermal energy will be vested in the surface owner of the property above the geothermal resource. The regulatory scheme envisioned will cover well permitting, drilling and management. The bill would exempt geothermal wells and structures for home use.
Delegate Moore Capito commented that the Legislature wanted to ensure “we had certain prophylactic measures in place . . . to protect the public safety.” This is in stark contrast to the Legislature’s repeal of the only statutes in West Virginia governing the approval of an application for a nuclear power plant.
HB 4098 passed the House by a vote of 96-2.
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