West Virginia governor vetoes bill expanding renewable energy to protect coal

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) on Tuesday vetoed a measure that would raise the allowable size for a solar plant operated by state utilities, citing concerns about its effects on the coal industry.

The measure, HB5528, would have expanded the size of solar plants the state’s electric utilities, AEP and Mon Power, could own, doubling it from 50 megawatts (MW) to 100. A total ceiling of 200 MW per utility would remain in place.

In his veto letter, Justice expressed concerns the bill would lead to higher costs for consumers and said it “can only further endanger our nation’s energy security and put West Virginians at the mercy of the national power grid to ensure we keep the lights on at home.”

“I fear this well-intentioned bill will further encourage these companies to drop coal-generated power and continue to turn toward more expensive options outside of West Virginia,” he wrote.

“The ripple effect of such drastic and rapid change could lead to West Virginians paying more on their power bills, as these entities try to pass their cost increases down the chain to the consumer; it could also lead to job loss by putting coal mines and generating facilities out of business quickly.”

The bill’s sponsors have denied it would undermine the state’s coal industry. As of late 2023, nearly 12,600 MW of coal capacity remained online in the state, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, while renewables comprise less than 5 percent of the state’s electricity generation, with the largest portion coming from hydroelectricity.

Justice, a candidate for retiring Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) Senate seat, built much of his wealth in the coal industry, with state financial disclosures indicating his family owns numerous mining and related businesses among its 112 holdings. Justice placed seven of the companies he owns in a blind trust in 2017.

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