Divorcing ourselves from reality
Renewable energy and the future of West Virginia
The McClatchy News Service published an article about the growth of jobs in the renewable energy sector on Wednesday. Here's the lede:
Far more jobs have been created in wind and solar in recent years than lost in the collapse of the coal industry, and renewable energy is poised for record growth in the United States this year.
The article gets specific by citing a recently published study:
Researchers at Duke University, using data from renewable energy trade associations, estimate in a new study published in the journal Energy Policy that more than 79,000 direct and spinoff jobs were created from wind and solar electricity generation between 2008 and 2012.
That compares with an estimate of about 49,530 coal industry job losses, according to the study. While natural gas was the biggest winner in creating jobs for electricity generation, with almost 95,000 jobs created in that time, it’s clear renewable energy has been on the rise in the United States.
And what did the study say was important to the growth of renewable energy jobs?
State laws also helped drive the growth outside of Appalachia. Pratson said. Twenty-nine states specify a percentage of renewable electricity that utilities should meet, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and Kentucky and West Virginia are not among them.
“States with incentives have more growth,” said Drew Hearer, a Duke University research analyst who co-authored the study. “The Southeast is incentive-free, and there is almost no development of green energy there compared to other regions.”
West Virginia has been going backwards - you need only return to January to find the legislature make their first priority an attack on renewables even though, in this particular case, the utilities and coal companies had encouraged the law's passage in the first place:
CHARLESTON (AP) - The West Virginia House of Delegates overwhelmingly passed a repeal of an energy portfolio Thursday, which is poised to become the first bill the newly-minted GOP Legislature sends to Democrat Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
The House voted 95-4 Thursday to repeal the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard.
The McClatchy article does suggest that there may be some geographic barriers to the widespread deployment of wind and solar alternatives in West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky. Still, the thrust of the article is that the state is being left behind.
In the last year as I've written about coal and the future of West Virginia, I've found that the more I read on the subject, the more pessimistic I've become about the state's future. Coal is more and more expensive to get out of the ground (it increasingly can't compete with natural gas and other sources of energy), it is polluting our air and water, and is the major cause of climate change. What has made me especially pessimistic is that a majority of the state's politicians and a sizable number of the citizens who voted for them believe that we can ignore reality and somehow the state will be transported (magically?) to the 1950s, long before increased mechanization, environmental awareness and cheaper alternatives took its toll on the industry. We can't go back -- the marketplace and rest of the country have decided. Instead of our conversation being about trying to find ways to transition away from coal and finding alternatives in energy and job sourcing, its about rallying the troops around a lost cause. The state's separation from reality looks like it has become a divorce.