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High costs keep renewable energy at bay in West Virginia

“Even if technology allows you to build enough renewable or have enough energy efficiency, it is at a cost,” Patton said. “What’s really important is that people realize that somebody has to pay for this, and in the case of our state, there’s a lot of people who really struggle paying for it.”

As the Environmental Protection Agency continues to roll out proposals to lower emissions from power generation facilities, the energy sector has been encouraged to look toward using renewable sources of energy — a premise that has garnered mixed feelings throughout the Mountain State.

As the No. 2 coal-producing state in the nation, the coal industry has been a key factor for the West Virginia economy for centuries, causing residents and state lawmakers to rebel against environmental regulations that aim to regulate fossil fuel emissions, commonly labeled the “War on Coal.”

But the chatter about climate change has only gotten louder since the discussion first began; and according to the Energy Information Administration, coal was responsible for 74 percent of carbon dioxide emitted by the U.S. electric power sector in 2012, prompting environmental advocates to demand a change.

Powering West Virginia

Environmental advocates and energy experts throughout the state have been on board with the shift away from coal for one reason or another, but the Mountain State has a long way to go before it reaches a diverse energy portfolio.

Coal still generates 95 percent of the... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

As the Environmental Protection Agency continues to roll out proposals to lower emissions from power generation facilities, the energy sector has been encouraged to look toward using renewable sources of energy — a premise that has garnered mixed feelings throughout the Mountain State.

As the No. 2 coal-producing state in the nation, the coal industry has been a key factor for the West Virginia economy for centuries, causing residents and state lawmakers to rebel against environmental regulations that aim to regulate fossil fuel emissions, commonly labeled the “War on Coal.”

But the chatter about climate change has only gotten louder since the discussion first began; and according to the Energy Information Administration, coal was responsible for 74 percent of carbon dioxide emitted by the U.S. electric power sector in 2012, prompting environmental advocates to demand a change.

Powering West Virginia

Environmental advocates and energy experts throughout the state have been on board with the shift away from coal for one reason or another, but the Mountain State has a long way to go before it reaches a diverse energy portfolio.

Coal still generates 95 percent of the state’s electricity, whereas hydroelectric generation accounts for less than 2 percent of the state’s net electricity generation, and other renewables, such as solar, wind and biomass, account for only 2.3 percent, according to the EIA.

There are, however, several power generation facilities being powered by renewable resources across the state.

Of the 37 power generation facilities in West Virginia in 2012, according to the EIA, 11 were hydro powered, five were wind powered and one was fueled by landfill gas, which falls in the biomass category.

But not all power plants are created equal.

The 17 facilities powered by renewable resources had a combined nominal capacity of 943 megawatts. The 16 coal-fired plants, on the other hand, had a combined nominal capacity of nearly 15,000 megawatts and the four natural gas plants had more than a 1,200-megawatt capacity.

In other words, there are almost as many power generation facilities fueled by renewable energy as there are coal- and natural gas-fired power plants, but the renewable energy facilities produced less than 6 percent the amount of electricity that fossil fuels produced.

Renewable Future

The implementation of renewable power generation in West Virginia has been a slow process, but projects are continuing to arise across the state, such as the 35-megawatt Willow Island Hydroelectric Project, which is slated to be complete in 2015. In addition, Appalachian Power President Charles Patton said the company was considering implementing central solar resources for power generation as a method of complying with EPA standards.

“Ultimately, I think you’re going to see us have to build some more renewables and do some more with energy efficiency,” Patton said.

Additionally, college researchers throughout the state have been conducting several ongoing projects to assess renewable energy in West Virginia, including West Virginia University’s three-year study on the impacts of liquid biofuel derived from woody biomass, which received funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2012.

James Van Nostrand, director of the West Virginia University College of Law’s Center for Energy and Sustainable Development, authored “The Case for Integrated Resource Planning in West Virginia” in December 2012, in which he created a “roadmap” for state policymakers to create a more sustainable energy future.

According to Van Nostrand, West Virginia has a lot of potential to implement renewable energy sources, but the lack of incentive to do so is a major factor standing in the way of renewable energy advancement.

“Utilities should be moving more aggressively to be using renewable resources in their portfolios,” Van Nostrand said. “We have a lot of renewable resources in the state but we don’t have policies in place for those resources to be developed.”

Unlike many other states in the country, he said, West Virginia doesn’t have any policies in place that would encourage or require the development of renewable energies.

“That would be huge if we could modify our alternative renewable energy portfolio standard to stimulate the use of renewable resources,” Van Nostrand said.

The state does have an Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, enacted in 2009, which requires investor-owned utilities with more than 30,000 residential customers to supply 25 percent of retail electric sales from eligible alternative and renewable energy resources by 2025. However, “alternatives” is broadly defined, and includes fossil fuel advanced coal technology, coal bed methane and fuel produced by a coal gasification or liquefaction facility as eligible “alternative” sources.

On the other hand, Jeff Herholdt, director of the West Virginia Division of Energy, said rather than creating a renewables portfolio in West Virginia, the state should focus on gathering and exporting renewable energy to states that do have renewable energy portfolios, which set renewable energy percentage requirements.

“West Virginia has some good wind potential, which has fostered an interest to develop those wind farms to export to states that have these renewable portfolios,” he said.

Paying the Price

From an operational standpoint, electricity generation from a single unit coal plant would cost $4.47 per megawatt-hour and a conventional natural gas plant would cost $3.60 per megawatt-hour, according to the EIA; whereas electricity generation from wind, solar and hydroelectric power facilities costs nothing at all — which sounds great … on the surface.

The problem, though, is the capital cost of building these facilities.

“We have a fair amount of renewable now,” said Patton. “But the reason we haven’t built more (renewable generation facilities) is they’re more costly to build.”

The overnight capital cost to build an onshore wind power generation facility with 100-megawatt capacity would be $2,213 per kilowatt, to build a 100-megawatt solar thermal power generation facility would cost $5,067 per kilowatt and a 20-megawatt solar photovoltaic facility would cost $4,183 per kilowatt.

That said, the capital costs of building a coal- or natural gas-fired plant that meets environmental standards would, too, be expensive: A 1,300-megawatt dual unit coal plant with carbon capture and storage technology would cost $4,724 per kilowatt to build. And an advanced combined cycle natural gas plant with carbon capture and storage would cost $2,095 per kilowatt.

The difference is that these coal-fired plants already exist, whereas the renewable generation facilities do not; and EPA standards make it so coal-fired power plants have to implement clean coal technology, which is expensive, Patton said.

Additionally, it takes far more renewable energy generation facilities to produce power at the caliber of a natural gas or coal plant because the power companies can’t rely on some resources, including wind and solar power, 100 percent of the time, he added.

“Regardless of what some in the environmental community will tell you, you can’t count them the same way,” Patton said.

Although Patton recognized that fuel costs determine more than half of electricity prices — meaning the use of renewable sources would ultimately be cheaper — he said the initial hurdle is harder to overcome than it may seem when it comes to keeping electricity prices low.

“Even if technology allows you to build enough renewable or have enough energy efficiency, it is at a cost,” Patton said. “What’s really important is that people realize that somebody has to pay for this, and in the case of our state, there’s a lot of people who really struggle paying for it.”

And contrary to common belief, electricity rates in West Virginia really are low in relation to the rest of the nation.

In April 2014, according to the EIA, the average retail price of electricity for residential customers in West Virginia was 9.56 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is far below the national average of 12.31 cents. The Mountain State’s neighbors, on the other hand, paid notably higher rates. Virginia averaged 11.08 cents per kilowatt-hour, Maryland residents paid 14.08 cents, people in Kentucky paid 10.72 cents and Ohio saw an average of 12.4 cents.

But according to Van Nostrand, the environmental price the state is already paying by using coal far exceeds the price of building renewable generation facilities.

“The thing about coal is we’re not recognizing all the costs of coal,” Van Nostrand said. “If you consider all of the pollution and all of the environmental impact associated with coal, wind is far superior.

“You can choose to ignore those costs,” he said, adding that those who say renewable energy is more expensive are “wrong” because they aren’t including every step of the process of coal-fired electricity generation — from the gathering process, to the fuel costs to the environmental costs.

But Herholdt, like Patton, said that while the state is interested in developing renewable energy, keeping electricity prices low is his main concern.

“Renewable energy is part of our energy portfolio here and we’d certainly be interested in advancing a variety of energy opportunities,” Herholdt said, also noting “West Virginia has been focusing less on diversity of energy resources but more at producing electricity at the cheapest price possible.

“It’s hard to get a utility-scale renewable project to (financially) compete with coal.”


Source: http://www.wtrf.com/story/2...

JUL 19 2014
https://www.windaction.org/posts/40842-high-costs-keep-renewable-energy-at-bay-in-west-virginia
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