CHARLESTON — A bill that would repeal a 2009 law that mandates utility companies get 25 percent of their production materials from sources other than coal by 2025 was passed by the West Virginia State Senate unanimously Wednesday, with debate only on an amendment to the bill.
Senate Democrats attempted to amend the bill to include a study by the legislative auditor on the repeal's net effect on jobs and utility rates.
The amendment was introduced by Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall. Kessler said he wanted to include the amendment so that lawmakers could see "that it performs as intended — to create more jobs in the coalfields and lower utility bills."
Proponents of repealing the Alternative and Renewable Energy Act of 2009 have said the law will allow the free market to rule what purchases utility companies make, which will in turn keep consumer utility bills lower.
The amendment was defeated 20-13, with one senator absent.
All 18 Republicans voted against the amendment; two Democrats — Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, and Sen. Bob Williams, D-Taylor — voted with the majority.
A similar push for the act's repeal in the House of Delegates is likely to mirror the Senate action. House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, has asked for an economic impact study. Miley called the current law a "toothless tiger."
Miley said he fears state residents in coal-producing counties are being offered the false hope that if the law is repealed coal industry jobs will return.
Speaker of the House Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, answered Miley's request Tuesday, saying the effect of repealing the law is already known.
"Further delay of the repeal of the act will force the non-producing utilities to purchase credits, at least for this year, and, if long-term contracts are required by the seller, may burden those utilities (and, necessarily, their customers) with financial obligations well beyond 2015," Armstead said in a letter to Miley.
First Energy representative Sammy Gray said his company was "fine if the law stays in place" and "fine if it's repealed." First Energy already complies with the first tier of standards in the law, he said.
West Virginia Coal Association executive director Bill Raney said the industry was in favor of repeal. Raney said the 25 percent standard — not law until 2025 — is bad for the coal industry.
However, the 2009 Alternative and Renewable Energy Act also gave a nod to the coal industry and allowed "advanced coal technology, coal bed methane, fuel produced by a coal gasification or liquefaction facility and waste coal" as alternative energy sources.
Raney said the coal industry was in favor of the law at the time it was passed, but could not anticipate the regulations regarding carbon emissions from power plants handed down later by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. A provision in the 2009 law allowing "net metering,"
Producing electricity through solar panels or windmills and the ability to sell electricity to a utility company was preserved in the repeal.