Manchin and wind power? Say it isn’t so, Joe! West Virginia wind power is on the rise, but make sure you don’t mention the term “climate change” to Senator Joe Manchin III (R-Coal) or other red state Republicans.
Black Rock’s 23 state-of-the-art wind turbines are now part of an “all-of-the-above” approach to West Virginia’s statewide energy policy. That phrase is one of Manchin’s mantras, a way to encourage the continuation of fossil fuels while acknowledging the need for renewables like the West Virginia wind power addition.
State politicians have applauded the West Virginia wind farm for bringing reliable energy and well-paying jobs to the region. To these legislators, bragging about wind power’s role in the future of West Virginia and the US isn’t incompatible with what’s known as “climate denial.” The former is a practical energy source that satisfies labor pressures and brings energy stability; the latter is a delay mechanism.
The additional West Virginia wind power adds significantly to the state’s clean energy portfolio, as the once-powerful coal industry is on the decline. The gusts of change could be baffling to you unless you remember that power is politics — for energy production and legislative seat preservation.
The $200 million wind farm in West Virginia’s Grant and Mineral counties was unveiled this month. Clearway Energy Group’s commercial operations on Black Rock, a 115 MW wind farm that spans West Virginia’s Grant and Mineral counties, will increase the state’s wind energy generation by 15%, according to a Clearway press release.
The project will generate carbon-free electricity under long-term power purchase agreements with customers Toyota Motor North America and AEP Energy Partners, a wholly-owned subsidiary of American Electric Power, both major employers in West Virginia.
In an interview before the unveiling event with the Washington Post, Gary Howell, a Republican member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, said he supports the Black Rock project because it created more than 200 jobs during construction and nearly a dozen permanent operations jobs. There’s also an appealing partnership with Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College, which has a program to train students in turbine construction and maintenance. “We’re training a whole new class of workers,” said Howell, proudly displaying a turbine-shaped pin on his lapel.
According to the West Virginia Office of Miner’s Health and Safety, the number of coal employees in May, 2022 was 59,467.
Clearway is the largest operator of renewable energy in the state and invested more than $460 million in West Virginia last year developing, building, and repowering wind projects. The company’s 550 MW portfolio in the state includes another 120 MW wind farm under development in the same region. $52 million was dedicated to payroll and services during construction, CEO Craig Cornelius said.
Clearway also established the Black Rock Community Benefit Fund, which will donate $50,000 to local nonprofits every year.
“West Virginia has to be a diversified state; we don’t want to forget about the coal and natural gas industries,” Governor Jim Justice explained in the 2020 virtual groundbreaking. “But we want to welcome the alternatives.” The state-of-the-art wind turbines will generate enough electricity to power 55,000 West Virginia homes each year.
The northeastern part of West Virginia is rife with barren landscapes that have been eviscerated by mountaintop removal, a form of mining in which the summits of mountains are literally blasted off to expose layers of coal. Some of the Blackrock wind turbines sit on the same mountains that have been scarred by fossil fuel production in an ironic form of eco-justice.
Climate Denial in 2022 Means Climate Action Delays
West Virginia wind power enjoys support across the political aisle, as indicated by Manchin’s willingness to hold bipartisan energy talks. Yet Manchin has also been a crucial holdout vote on climate legislation in the evenly divided Senate.
That vacillation arises as more and more former climate denialists have succumbed to the existential truth about fossil fuel’s role in greenhouse gas emissions; indeed, the majority of the public now accepts the science of climate change. Thus, what had been a climate denial strategy by Manchin and others has shifted to constant attempts to block meaningful climate actions by creating skepticism about renewable energy solutions.
Delay is the new denial – “climate delayism,” according to John E. Fernández, director of the Environmental Solutions Initiative. Fernández says that climate delayism is a systematic and coordinated strategy to bring about unwarranted concern regarding a wide range of climate actions. “Climate denialists have been primarily interested in obfuscation and nurturing confusion for the purpose of derailing and delaying climate actions,” Fernández continues, noting that obfuscation and confusion have, really, always been the ultimate goals.
Delayism’s responses to the existential threat of the climate crisis from this perspective are:
- It’s too late, the game is over, so we might as well not overreact. Therefore, let’s make the best of a bad situation and accept that fossil fuels, like methane, are here to stay. (This approach appeals to people who feel a lack of agency.)
- Alternatives are risky, and they might not work. They are also expensive and might make the situation worse. (In this case, doubt is created about the real value of renewables and suggests vague dangers of existing and emerging solutions to fossil fuel pollution.)
West Virginia Wind Power & National Energy Policy
Wind power also has bipartisan backing on Capitol Hill, where it has been embraced by Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND), who has a General Electric wind turbine manufacturing facility in his home state.
In the whispered halls of the Senate, Manchin has been meeting with a small group of Republicans about the possibility of crafting a bipartisan climate and energy package. The group recently discussed the tax credits for clean energy that were included in President Biden’s stalled social spending bill. In an interview after the inaugural event, Cornelius declined to comment on Manchin’s opposition to Biden’s spending bill. But he warned that, if Congress fails to extend those tax credits, the clean energy developer’s plans for more projects in West Virginia could be significantly slowed.
“We definitely won’t be able to build everything that we’ve planned here in West Virginia as fast as we could if [the credits] are not coming,” Cornelius warned. “Those incentives are the difference between whether a project gets built in the next 2 years or the next 8.”
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