Senator Manchin is right: West Virginia should be a leader in the green economy. (Manchin: We should be building the green economy in West Virginia, Jan. 31) Our elected officials at both the state and federal levels can act to make sure this happens.
West Virginia state lawmakers should legalize a renewable energy financing tool called power purchase agreements (PPAs). This will increase demand for renewable energy, particularly solar. At the federal level, we should make investments to ensure this demand is met by West Virginia workers, and that it benefits our state’s local businesses and farms.
PPAs allow companies and organizations to install solar or other energy generation facilities on their property at no upfront cost. With a PPA, a third party owns, installs, and maintains the facility. Customers benefit because they are able to buy the electricity the facility generates at a rate lower than what they pay to their utility.
PPAs are legal in 28 states, including our neighboring states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, and Virginia. Georgia legalized PPAs in 2015. Since then, the state has installed solar energy at three times the national average.
Legalizing PPAs will encourage demand for renewable energy in West Virginia, but that’s not enough. We need to make sure that West Virginians and West Virginia companies are the ones to install these facilities.
This is where the federal government has a role to play.
A “green job” isn’t just the installer wiring together solar panels on a roof. It’s also the salesperson who closes the deal, the truck driver who delivers the equipment, and the researcher working in a laboratory to develop new technologies.
The federal government should invest in workforce development programs to train West Virginians for these roles. This funding should support job training (including on-the-job training), mid-career professional development, and establishment of new small businesses and worker cooperatives, among other services.
Investing in renewable energy now will help keep energy production jobs in our state. Federal support can make sure West Virginia is not left behind during the transition to a renewable energy economy.
One example of an existing federal program that could be expanded is the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program, or REAP. This program provides grants and loan guarantees to rural business owners and farmers. In the past year, REAP provided over $1 million in loans and grants to West Virginia farms and businesses. But more can be done to help West Virginia businesses and farms access affordable, locally produced renewable energy. An expanded REAP program could provide additional technical assistance for REAP applicants to help them prepare applications and get their projects installed.
Generations ago, the federal government invested in nationwide electrification. That infrastructure buildout provided a critical market for West Virginia’s coal. This turned our state into an energy powerhouse. Today, a new round of investment is needed to help maintain West Virginia’s leadership in energy for generations to come.
Solar United Neighbors
Mt. Nebo, West Virginia