Charlie Burd: Putting WV’s natural gas abundance to good use (Opinion)

Charleston Gazette-Mail, May 10, 2023

We produce more natural gas in West Virginia than 90% of our country, but only 4.5% of that is used to generate electricity in our own state — and it’s time for a change.

Thanks to leadership in the state Legislature and Gov. Jim Justice’s signature, West Virginia is open for natural gas power generators to invest, create jobs and put the abundant resources beneath our feet to work generating power for all.

With the passage and signing into law of Senate Bill 188 — the Grid Stabilization and Security Act of 2023 — our state economic development agency has been tasked with identifying suitable sites to locate natural gas power plants and establish reasonable and predictable permitting time frames.

Previously, permitting challenges and regulatory red tape have been high hurdles to overcome in attracting the billions of dollars of investment in modern, efficient combined-cycle power plants that turn our abundant natural gas resources into reliable, affordable power. Compared to other states, West Virginia ranks in the bottom 10 for natural gas power generation, according to federal data, with our electric sector largely dependent on coal.

Unfortunately, our neighbors have thrived while West Virginia has been passed over for investment.

Since the shale revolution took off a decade ago and natural gas was unlocked from the Marcellus and Utica shales underlying the tri-state region, Pennsylvania and Ohio have enjoyed tens of billions of dollars in private investment to build dozens of new, highly efficient combined-cycle natural gas power plants.

Together, 39 combined cycle natural gas facilities generate clean, affordable, around-the-clock power in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Each facility represents hundreds of millions of dollars in capital investment, supports thousands of building trades jobs during construction and typically generates enough electricity to reliably and affordably power 750,000 homes.

And, while Pennsylvania and Ohio are expanding their economies and tax revenue base by driving ways to use natural gas locally, they’re driving important clean air gains, too. Pennsylvania has seen a 39% drop in power-sector-related carbon emissions and a 40% drop in VOCs as the state’s share of electricity generated from natural gas has increased.

There’s no reason the Mountain State can’t join in these broadly shared benefits.

“Manufacturing and reliable, affordable energy is paramount to our ability to grow and expand in WV,” Rebecca McPhail, of the West Virginia Manufacturers’ Association, told Hoppy Kercheval in an interview earlier this year.

She’s absolutely right — manufacturers in West Virginia already have a competitive advantage with direct access to low-cost natural gas; with expanded natural gas power generation, we’re further incentivizing growth as companies need reliable, affordable power to create jobs.

Thankfully, movement is already happening in north-central West Virginia. There, in the heart of Doddridge County, a company is planning to invest $3 billion to construct an 1,800 MW combined-cycle natural gas power plant. Once permitted, 2,000 men and women — including many from the union building trades — will construct the innovative facility that’ll intends to deploy carbon capture technology to eliminate emissions.

Once online, the CPV Shay Energy Center will be the first in West Virginia to turn local natural gas into local power.

It’s a crowning achievement that’s a game-changer for the region.

Thankfully, now that we have a more efficient and encouraging regulatory process in place, we’re optimistic that we’ll be cutting the ribbon for many more natural gas power generators across the Mountain State.