West Virginia is getting a 115 MW wind farm, which will increase the state’s wind power by 15%. Here’s why that’s a really big deal – and why West Virginia’s governor, Jim Justice, is so excited.
West Virginia wind power
First, let’s check out West Virginia’s new wind farm. Construction is underway on the $200 million Black Rock Wind project. It consists of 23 turbines that produce 5 megawatts each on the Grant-Mineral county line, in the northeastern region of the state. Green energy developer Clearway Energy is building Black Rock Wind, which will provide power to Toyota and American Electric Power.
Clearway, which already operates the Pinnacle Wind Farm (pictured above) in Mineral County, intends to have Block Rock Wind live before the end of this year.
WVMetroNews reports that Clearway Energy CEO Craig Cornelius says that $52 million of the $200 million will be spent on payroll and services during the construction process.
Construction will create 200 union jobs, and permanent positions will be advertised later this year. Clearway is planning a pilot project training program for workers who have coal mining or other energy experience.
West Virginia’s coal dependency
West Virginia is coal country. According to the US Energy Information Administration, as of 2018, it was the second-largest coal producer in the US after Wyoming and ranked fifth among the states in total US energy production – that’s 5%.
Coal-fired electric power plants accounted for 91% of West Virginia’s electricity net generation in 2019. Renewable energy resources — primarily hydroelectric power and wind energy — contributed a meager 6%, in contrast.
West Virginia depends on the fossil fuel for jobs and revenue – but coal is a lost cause. Maybe that’s why Governor Jim Justice (R-WV) sounds so excited – maybe even a little relieved? – when he announced Black Rock Wind yesterday. Here’s an excerpt of what he said:
Gosh, this is so necessary that we have within our state, and this is really good stuff.
Today we’re announcing a great move by Blackrock, a great move in the State of West Virginia, and so many, many, many good things that are about to happen here.
I’m a complete believer that West Virginia has to be a diversified state. We don’t want to forget how important [our coal mine jobs and our natural gas jobs] are… but we have embraced the all-encompassing thing. And this wind farm will amp up our wind production.
We absolutely do not run off and leave our [fossil fuel] jobs, but at the same time, we absolutely want to embrace all the other ways we can move forward with manufacturing and great jobs.
You can watch Justice’s full speech here:
Justice has to say that about not abandoning fossil fuel jobs because coal is important to West Virginia. More than one-third of the more than 93 million tons of coal mined in West Virginia was exported to foreign markets. It’s also part of the state’s history and culture, even though it kills West Virginians.
So the word “diversification” is very diplomatic, and, well… politically astute. He knows the energy industry will change under the Biden administration. Wall Street is looking to renewables now. There is a reason he expresses excitement about the millions in tax income the wind farm will bring to the state in his video.
The numbers don’t lie. In 2010, around 21,000 people worked in the coal mining industry in West Virginia. By 2019, that number had fallen to just under 14,000.
And those jobs are going to keep on disappearing. That’s why Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) introduced a bill in July 2020 to support communities who have suffered, and will keep suffering, job losses as a result of the death of the coal industry.
For example, the largest private coal company in the US, owned by the now-deceased Robert Murray, filed for bankruptcy in October 2019. The EU is this week calling for a worldwide phase-out of coal. West Virginia is dependent on a rapidly disappearing fuel, and it needs other sources of income and jobs, so it does indeed need to “diversify.” Those folks who work in coal in West Virginia need a Plan B. May more solar and wind farms come their way – fast – because Justice can’t bring himself to tell them the hard, scary truth.
Photo: Clearway Energy
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