Coal Tattoo

Manchin seeking to tighten his new energy law

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As a special session of West Virginia’s Legislature continues, lawmakers have passed two resolutions expressing their support for the coal industry, saying that:

… Recent events at the federal level, most notably the debate over “cap and trade” legislation in Congress and obscure regulatory actions by the Environmental Protection Agency, are casting a shadow of doubt and uncertainty over the future of the coal industry in West Virginia…

But lawmakers are also examining a little-noticed bill sent to them by Gov. Joe Manchin to make several changes in the Manchin energy bill passed earlier this year. The change are in HB 408 and the companion SB 4008.

Recall that Manchin’s bill was intended to require utilities in West Virginia to get a share of their power from alternative energy sources. But, some critics noted that the governor’s definition of alternative energy was so broad as to include just about anything.

The new bill is aimed at narrowing this definition a little bit, according to Manchin communications director Matt Turner. “We want people to use newer technology,” Turner said.

The bill allows utilities to count a certain amount of power from “advanced coal technology” toward their alternative energy requirement, and it defines that term to mean:

… A technology that is used in a new or existing energy generating facility to reduce airborne carbon emissions associated with the combustion or use of coal and includes, but is not limited to, carbon dioxide capture and sequestration technology,  supercritical technology, ultrasupercritical technology and pressurized fluidized bed technology.

The new bill amends that definition to it read this way:

… A technology that is used in a new or existing energy generating facility to reduce airborne carbon emissions associated with the combustion or use of coal and includes, but is not limited to, carbon dioxide capture and sequestration technology, advanced supercritical technology, as that technology is determined by the Public Service Commission, ultrasupercritical technology and pressurized fluidized bed technology and any other resource, method, project or technology certified by the commission as advanced coal technology.

And a House amendment added this language:

No more than ten percent of the credits used each year to meet the compliance requirements of this section may be credits acquired from the generation or purchase of electricity generated from supercritical technology.

Here’s how Turner explained this to me today:

The amended bill limits an electric utility’s ability to use energy produced from supercritical boilers — the technology used in the majority of West Virginia’s coal burning power plants — to earn credits under the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Act. The House amendment would allow a utility to use energy produced from supercritical technology to meet 10 percent of its yearly requirements for alternative and renewable generation. 

The bill that was passed in the first special session early this year placed no limitations on the use of supercritical. This was too broad and did not meet the governor’s expectation that 25 percent of the energy produced in West Virginia by 2025 come from progressive alternative and renewable technologies.

The bill also includes language to allow the state Public Service Commission to farm out to an independent contractor the duty of monitoring, tracking and verifying alternative energy credits under the program.

And another thing that caught my eye was a provision to exempt from West Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act certain data and information concerning individual transactions when utilities buy or sell alternative energy credits needed to meet their requirements under the program.