CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — There are still nine operating coal plants in West Virginia but with the cost of renewable energy going down in recent years, it has prompted some West Virginia lawmakers and businesses to take steps to encourage more solar and wind manufacturing, especially as the coal industry continues to decline.
Across from a power plant in Nitro, West Virginia is Revolt Energy, you can see the billowing steam from the solar energy construction company’s parking lot.
The area is where you could say the new and the old way of energy production meet.
“I really think the dam is broken on renewable energy, particularly solar, here in West Virginia,” said Zach Drennen, head of solar operations for revolt Energy.
Drennen says business owners are starting to realize the savings they can make by using solar energy to offset their utility bills.
“People are just on the cusp of realizing this so we’re seeing a huge demand, uptick in solar,” he said.
Another renewable energy development in the state that is currently in the works, is the Raleigh Solar Farm in Raleigh County, which will reportedly generate electricity for 16,000 homes.
The Toyota plant in Buffalo, WV will also become the state’s largest solar project, spanning six acres.
“Some of the fastest-paced jobs in the country right now are renewable jobs from solar to wind and it’s just something West Virginia kind of needs to look forward to,” said Del Kayla Young (D-Kanawha).
Young is one of the new voices at the state capitol who is pushing for more energy innovation in the state.
She helped pass a bill that allows residents to lease solar energy at their homes.
Still, she says old ties to the coal industry sometimes get in the way.
“We had a bill to work on the coal communities and coal miners, and you know we also have black lung bills every year to help coal miners and their families, and those bills don’t go anywhere because the industry pushes back so hard,” she said.
As companies like AEP make commitments to significantly reduce their carbon emissions, both Drennan and Young say they don’t want West Virginia to be left behind as the renewable energy industry continues to take root across the country.
As Young puts it, “it’s an all of the above energy infrastructure.”
“We want to make a smooth just transition that works for everybody and works ahead and I just hope people can be open-minded to what there can be,” she said.
Drennan expects Revolt Energy to double in size this year.