West Virginia can actually thrive under new U.S. Environmental Protection Regulations that aim to reduce greenhouse gasses, according to three panelists participating in a public forum last week in Shepherdstown.
West Virginia must cut back its carbon emission rate by 20 percent by the year 2030 under the EPA regulations. The panelists leading the forum, entitled EPA Carbon Rules: How Can West Virginia Lead? voiced confidence that the state can meet that goal and create jobs as well. The West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club organized the event. Jefferson County resident Mary Anne Hitt is director of the organization’s Beyond Coal Campaign
“There is a lot of misinformation out there about this rule, and what it requires of coal or gas or energy efficiency," Hitt noted, "and the fact of the matter is, here in West Virginia, we can meet the standard through energy efficiency, through wind and solar. Through clean energy that’s going to provide a lot of new jobs in the state, and it’s a really exciting opportunity, and we all know that we’re struggling with low employment here in West Virginia, and we need more economic opportunity, and this is a great way to bring it to the state.”
Aside from Hitt, two other panelists seemed to get the most reaction from the audience. One was David Levine who is a leader in the West Virginia solar industry. Levine is founder and CEO of the company Geosteller Solar which is based in Martinsburg.
“This regulation is not job killing regulation," said Levine, "It really is going to spur a whole new energy economy, which is really good for consumers, and that’s actually going to lower their utility bills, and it’s going to spur jobs, because solar creates many more jobs per Megawatt than big centralized nuclear power plants or coal plants, or natural gas power plants.”
Levine says that the installation process is frighteningly simple.
“Our business is solar energy marketplace, and the idea is we match people who want to go solar with the right solutions. We tell you exactly how much energy you can produce on your particular rooftop, and then the value of that energy based on the energy you’ll displace. So if I used to have a monthly energy bill of $120 a month, it says your new total electricity cost with your solar, plus what you’ll still paying your utility company for a reduced usage might be down to $80 a month, and that’s what we compare.”
Levine says once Geostellar Solar does a site assessment of your home, it takes a licensed contractor about a day to install the panels. But if it’s so easy, why aren’t more people taking advantage of it?
“The reason people aren’t going solar today is because they don’t have role models, where it’s still so sparse, there’s not a sense of oh, it’s common. It’s hard to say when the tipping point is going to be, it’s like the movement from the horseless carriage to the automobile. You know, cars were foreign, it was like, how can this possibly move without this horse. It’s going to be the same thing at some point. People aren’t going to talk about solar energy, it’s just going to be energy.”
Marketing Consultant and Jefferson County resident Sean O’Leary, says the numbers involving jobs in coal just don’t add up.
“From the time West Virginia hit its peak in employment in 1940 with about 130,000 jobs, we have dropped down to only about 19,000 jobs now," explained O'Leary, "but in the meantime, the extraction of coal has actually increased. The bottom line is that employment in the coal industry has not ever, at least since 1929, been driven by the volume of coal that’s being extracted, and so consequently when politicians say that by defending the industry and increasing the…helping to increase the use of coal, they’re defending West Virginia jobs, it simply isn’t true.”
The conversation about how the new EPA regulations will impact the country will continue at a public hearing in Washington DC on July 29th. The Sierra Club is sponsoring a bus to take Eastern Panhandle residents who are interested in attending.