Coal Tattoo

Early thoughts on Manchin’s energy plan

manchin1.jpgWest Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin had been hinting for months that he planned to introduce major energy legislation aimed to encouraging more “alternative” and “renewable” electricity production in the Mountain State.

But it comes as no surprise that Manchin has carefully crafted (and named) his proposal so that it protects the coal industry. I’ve posted the draft text of Manchin’s “Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard” legislation  here.

A while back, the folks over at the West Virginia Blue blog suggested  that Manchin should look to his buddy, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, for ideas when developing a new energy policy

kainemanchin250.jpgWell, it’s important to note first of all that Virginia’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is strictly voluntary. And in fact, American Electric Power spokesman Mark Dempsey told me tonight that his company would have preferred that Manchin take the route of a voluntary program, rather than a binding standard. So in that regard, the coal-fired power industry did not get everything it wanted from Manchin’s bill.

Instead, Manchin seems to have modeled his proposal, at least in part, after similar programs in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. All three states have programs that require power companies to get credit for “alternative” or “renewable” energy if they get power from a coal-fired plant that uses some advanced form of controls to limit carbon dioxide emissions.

Here’s a quick look at what those other state programs look like, according to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change:


At least 10 percent of energy must come from renewable energy by 2015. Up to 10 percent of that requirement can be met with coal-fired power plants that reduce emissions by 85 percent relative to average coal plant emissions, or from Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle plants that reduce emissions by 70 percent.


By 2025, at least 25 percent of electricity must come from alternative energy sources. Half of that can be met through coal-fired power plants that control or prevent carbon dioxide emissions.


At least 18.5 percent of electricity must come from alternative sources by 2020.  Almost half of that can come from waste coal plants or from coal gasification plants.

Judi Greenwald, a vice president at the Pew Center, told me that whether Manchin’s bill is considered progressive or not depends on what he’s trying to accomplish.

“If you’re just looking at climate change, as long as it’s low-carbon, it’s good,” she said.

But environmental groups (and many energy experts) are looking these days not just at carbon emissions, though that is clearly at the top of the list of considerations when judging an energy bill. With coal, Greenwald said, there are many other factors to consider, from the damage done by mountaintop removal to the potential toxic hazards from power plant ash dumps.

Still, she said, Manchin’s proposal — like those before it in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania — probably makes sense, at least from a political standpoint.

“In these states, where coal is such an important part of the mix, it probably makes more sense politically,” Greenwald said.

I’ll be blogging more about this, and probably writing more for our print edition as well.

And you’ll want to make sure to check out the rest of our State of the State coverage and follow the Gazette’s new legislative blog, the Squawk Box.