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More types of power to the people

Man, where do I start? It was a very busy week last week here under the golden dome, with two special sessions done, major economic development announcements, controversial social issues, our two U.S. senators fighting behind the scenes, dogs and cats living together and mass hysteria.

The good news of course are the two major economic development announcements. You can read my stories from last week for the specific details, but Berkshire Hathaway announced an innovative project to create titanium products with their manufacturing plant powered by its own solar power plant – a microgrid. It’s a $500 million investment on the site of the former Century Aluminum in Jackson County.

The other big project, which is a bit less certain, is a $3 billion natural gas-fired power plant and carbon capture sequestration project being done by Maryland-based Competitive Power Ventures. I say less certain because they don’t have an official site yet, though multiple sources point to Doddridge County, where natural gas infrastructure and pipelines already exists.

So, the state known for its coal mines will have an electric arc furnace steel mill thanks to Nucor, building in Mason County. South Charleston is now manufacturing electric school buses, and the Northern Panhandle will soon be manufacturing electric pontoon boats. The Bridgeport area is getting a lithium-ion battery manufacturing operation working on innovative ways to build batteries without cobalt.

Now add one of the first microgrid projects using solar and a natural gas power plant that plans to capture as much as 90% of its own emission and store it underground. Lawmakers heard from experts in the nuclear power industry last week, and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Friday that Microsoft founder Bill Gates would be visiting the state soon to tout his new venture — small modular nuclear reactors.

It sure seems like the state is truly embracing being all things energy, not just a coal state. I have to imagine the West Virginia Coal Association is getting nervous, though it seems to me that they should be rooting all of this on, especially the CPV carbon capture project. If the cost of the technology can be brought down, that’s how you save coal-fired power.

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The CPV project could also prove politically helpful to Manchin, who will need to show how West Virginia can benefit from the Inflation Reduction Act, which is really more of a clean energy incentive bill.

Manchin backed the Inflation Reduction Act, negotiated much of the bill, and in exchange for his support he’s been promised a permitting reform package as part of the continuing resolution Congress will need to pass by the end of this month to keep the government from shutting down.

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and all congressional Republicans voted against the Inflation Reduction Act and largely feel betrayed by Manchin and congressional Democrats. Capito and Republicans also tried to amend the IRA to include permitting reform with no support from Manchin and Senate Democrats.

Now, Manchin is expecting Capito and Senate Republicans to support the CR and his permitting reform language even though the bill language has not been released. Capito introduced her own permitting reform bill based on her earlier amendment to the IRA. The Capito bill has 48 Republicans on board.

While the two sides get along even when they disagree, the Capito camp is not happy with the Manchin camp over how this is all being done. They feel like Manchin is laying the groundwork to blame Republicans if the CR/permitting reform bill fails.

Progressive Democrats in both the U.S House of Representatives and the Senate are already balking at the bill even though language still hasn’t been released. Capito said last week that no Republicans have been consulted on the permitting reform language. She doesn’t understand why Manchin is relying on her to bring Republican senators to the CR if he can’t even get Democrats on board.

On the other hand, the Manchin camp is not happy with Capito introducing her bill. They feel confident she will support the CR (she is on the record saying she can’t support the CR until she sees the permitting reform language) because it will include provisions to get the Mountain Valley Pipeline finished. They believe Capito’s bill could provide Senate Republicans – still mad about the IRA – an off-ramp to not support the CR.

We have 12 days until the end of September. Time is running out and good will is shrinking.

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And HB 302, the abortion ban with very narrow exceptions, is now law as of Friday. I’ll be very curious to see what the political implications will be in November.

Yes, West Virginia tends to be a conservative state. Republicans hold the majority in voter registration. And it wasn’t that long ago that voters approved a state constitutional amendment stating the constitution offers no guaranteed right to abortion.

But that amendment was approved by voters narrowly. Recent polling shows that West Virginians may not be all that thrilled with a strict ban and open to less narrow exceptions. I don’t think HB 302 puts the House of Delegates and state Senate Republican supermajorities in play for Democrats, but I do see a chance for Democratic pickups in the more urban parts of the state.

We’ll just have to see what voters say at the polls.

(Adams is the state government reporter for Ogden Newspapers. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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