The Times West Virginian

December 10, 2013

Industry experts attend forum to discuss country’s energy needs

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — Energy has an impact on everyone’s lives, said U.S. Congressman David McKinley, R-W.Va.

McKinley and West Virginia University brought a diverse group of energy experts together for a panel discussion Monday in WVU’s Mountainlair Ballroom in Morgantown. Members of the public also gathered for the summit, which focused on the energy needs of the country and the way in which energy policies affect the economic climate.

McKinley, who represents the 1st District of West Virginia and serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said Monday’s event was a continuation of the first energy forum held at WVU last year.

With its shale resources in the natural gas industry, West Virginia has a bright future. However, the United States has to get its energy policies under control and make those decisions in the right way, he said.

“We do know there is no national energy policy,” McKinley said. “As a result, the issues over energy change under each presidential administration, and so there’s confusion. The EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) is following the lead from the administration. What I think came from this (panel) is we need a policy.”

The country should have a policy, and then once a company makes an investment to build a facility, it should be able to operate that facility, he said. Unfortunately, new energy standards or regulations are put into effect that cause problems for these energy businesses.

McKinley said the cost to the individual family is what matters the most.

“We can do all these things, we can have the cleanest air, but if that’s causing our families to pay three times what they’re currently paying, then that’s not right,” he said. “You’ve got to find that balance with it. Families can’t afford to have their budget destroyed.

“This is a global issue, and I admire the president for standing up and saying the whole world has to come together with it, but the president and the rest of the world are not on the same page on this.”

Dr. Fred King, WVU’s vice president for research and economic development, moderated the panel discussion with McKinley. King said there is nothing more important than the relationship between fossil energy and the economy. The transition that the country goes through in terms of reliance on different energy resources needs to be clearly thought out.

Neil Stanton, vice president for refining at Ergon West Virginia Inc., commented that he is very concerned about the amount of energy regulation that is passed administratively rather than legislatively. These policies are impacting the overall industry, he said.

Stanton added that the country must develop energy independence based on reality rather than technologies that don’t exist. The country needs to let these resources play out in the market, and not pick winners or losers through regulations.

Tremendous cost is involved as coal-fired power plants work to follow environmental regulations, said Russ Lorince, vice president of external affairs for Arch Coal’s Eastern Operations. These policies can be met, but he urged people to be patient as companies develop new technologies.

The industry has to remain environmentally responsible while also being cost-effective, which is a challenge, Lorince said.

Without a question, renewable energy will become more important in the future, and Dominion Power is learning all that it can about how renewable resources work, said Bruce McKay, managing director for federal affairs for the company. Dominion is involved in wind and solar projects, but knows that these sources are not the only answer to energy issues.

The company is also working with nuclear reactor plants. In addition, Dominion Power has plans to export liquified natural gas to Japan and India, McKay said.

Charles Patton, president and chief operating officer for Appalachian Power, stated that natural gas is going to be quite affordable in the coming years, and gas is so cheap that it’s impacting other energy industries and preventing the development of alternatives. The electric utility industry is looking at diversity, as solar panels will become much more affordable and battery technology could make the use of wind energy more feasible.

But the country has to make an investment to ensure a reliable, affordable form of energy, and today that doesn’t exist with renewables. Appalachian Power is looking at those options, but doesn’t believe they are economically viable at the present time, Patton said.

Jim Kotcon, conservation chairman for the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, stressed that everyone has to keep in mind that the purpose of these energy policies is to protect the health and well-being of people.

“We are saving lives, and that has to be part of the economic equation,” he said.

Kotcon also said while the economy can’t run entirely on renewables, these resources need to be a bigger part of the energy mix.

Dr. Richard Bajura, director of WVU’s National Research Center for Coal and Energy, said coal-fired plants are designed to operate for a number of years, and people are going to continue to use the technology that’s available. He echoed that technological changes and advances in energy practices can’t take place overnight, and support for research is vital in order to move forward.

In addition, the buildup of greenhouse gases has long-term effects, and the country has to be careful that it doesn’t do too little too late, Bajura said.

Dr. Wesley Burnett, a microeconomist who teaches courses on energy economics and policy within WVU’s Agricultural and Resource Economics, pointed out that carbon dioxide emissions have a global impact. Until some sort of international compact is put into place, the United States can keep reducing its own emissions but there will still be a global impact from the emissions of other countries around the world.

Email Jessica Borders at or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.