By Thomas Minney and Beth Wheatley
The Nature Conservancy
West Virginia’s economic future depends in part on expanding opportunities for clean energy. Our citizens understand it, business leaders demand it, and expert research confirms it. Now it is up to Congress to act on it.
The U.S. Senate is considering whether to advance a package of clean energy incentives that would yield significant economic benefits for West Virginians —both in terms of job gains and by avoiding economic losses that are sure to follow if these policies do not pass.
Just as West Virginians are interested in being part of a more sustainable future, as demonstrated by polling showing 95% of voters support expanding clean energy production, the marketplace is also demanding action.
Clean energy is already informing the decisions of major new business prospects. Access to renewable energy was a key consideration in Nucor Steel’s recent decision for locating their proposed $2.7 billion facility in the state. If those renewable energy needs were not met, the state would have lost its single largest economic development project ever, according to public statements by Chris Beam, president of Appalachian Power, which provides electricity to half of West Virginia.
Nucor is not an isolated case, Beam said. Because one large manufacturer’s renewable energy needs could not be met, for example, their new project went elsewhere. The jobs lost with it were what he called “career jobs,” the types of jobs that could support a family, put kids through college and buy a home.
For some time, companies have been making promises to shareholders and customers to become more sustainable and provide benefits for the land, water, and air that communities need to grow, including the power it takes to run their factories. By increasing its supply of clean power, West Virginia will better compete with surrounding states that are already positioning themselves to help companies meet their commitments.
In Congress, our own Sen. Joe Manchin has been pragmatically discussing federal incentives and investments that could help level the playing field for West Virginia. These incentives would build off the state’s energy foundation and support the full suite of clean energy options—natural gas plants that capture and store emissions underground, clean hydrogen, alongside wind and solar power. Other investments enhance West Virginia’s vast forest resources’ ability to absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere.
Manchin has rightly focused on what these actions by Congress mean for families in West Virginia facing ever-increasing economic uncertainty. So in addition to increasing our state’s ability to attract new business, we wanted to quantify the positive job impact these clean energy incentives could also bring to our communities.
New research commissioned by The Nature Conservancy shows these policies are a smart investment in the state’s economic future. The analysis, conducted by BW Research Partnership, reveals that these investments would support more than 7,300 jobs every year for the next decade, at least half of which are “career jobs” mentioned by Beam. These results are on top of the benefits our state will see from the bipartisan infrastructure bill that Manchin led last year. Together, these federal investments would significantly contribute to West Virginia’s pathway to a brighter economic future.
Finally, we must also consider what additional government spending will do to the deficit and inflation. Here again is good news. In general, expanding clean energy lowers energy costs, which both helps consumers and addresses a key driver to inflation.
The state and the country face tough challenges with the economic uncertainty right in front of us and farther in the future. The clean energy policies in discussion can help address both. The opportunity to make that economically sustainable future a reality is in front of our lawmakers right now and they must act quickly to enact the clean energy provisions on the table this Congress.
— Thomas Minney is the Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia. Beth Wheatley is The Nature Conservancy’s Director of State Climate and Energy Policy for the U.S. and Senior Advisor to West Virginia.