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In the heart of coal nations, US climate change bill could boost green shoots

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Andy Sullivan and Rose Horowitch

In West Virginia, a solar power plant could be built on top of an abandoned coal mine, and a factory would install batteries and electricity. A school bus will be produced soon. Ambitious U.S. climate change bills could push these green shoots even further, but analysts say King Coal will maintain a tremendous amount of clout in the state.

Supporters say his $430 billion package, expected to pass Congress on Friday, could bring investment flows into one of the country's poorest states. I'm here.

"We've grown exponentially in the last few years and it's going to get even crazier when this bill is passed," states.

This week, the Senate passed a bill largely shaped by his Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, and the Democratic-controlled House is set to approve it on Friday. is. President Joe Biden promised to sign this into law.

Its $369 billion climate incentives include the West Manchin, which aims to induce green investments in Virginia and other areas that have relied on fossil fuel jobs and earnings. Contains sweeteners endorsed by Mr.

Another state senator, Republican Sherry Moore Capito, voted against the bill, saying it would harm the coal industry. At least one of the three West Virginia congressmen, all Republicans, will vote against it. Congressman Alex Mooney runs a video ad saying he won't let Manchin "devastate West Virginia."

Their concerns are legitimate. West Virginia's coal industry is already set back as power companies turn to natural gas and other cheaper, less carbon-intensive fuels. Analysts say the bill will encourage utilities to build more renewable facilities and shut down coal-fired power plants.

"While this change is not necessarily new, the law will help accelerate it," Moody's wrote in his research notes.

Coal accounted for her 19% of US energy generation last year, down from 45% in 2010, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). State statistics show that in West Virginia, the industry is no longer an employment powerhouse, going from 146,000 in 1948 to just 11,000 workers in 2021.

However, coal still produces 91% of electricity in West Virginia, one of the highest percentages in the nation. Governor Jim Justice, a Republican, owns multiple coal companies, and many other officials, including Manchin, have ties to the industry. West Virginia has also successfully filed a legal challenge that undermines federal authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

As utilities shut down coal plants in other areas, West Virginia regulators last year paid a hefty sum to allow three large coal plants to remain operational until at least 2040. approved the upgrade. invoice.

Such decisions could undermine the effectiveness of climate legislation and undermine the Biden administration's goal of halving US climate change emissions from 2005 levels by 2030. said James Van Nostrand, director of the West's Center for Energy and Sustainable Development. University of Virginia.

"At the state level...we need a policy to take advantage of it, but we don't have one," he said.

Still, Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed several solar incentives in recent years, encouraged by large employers demanding access to clean energy.

According to Democratic Rep. Evan Hansen, the state will have only 10 megawatts of solar installed in 2020, enough capacity to power approximately 1,300 homes. However, there are now more than 4,000 megawatts of solar power projects awaiting approval. of state representatives.

"Some good things are happening, but at a slower pace than most states," he said.

The state government is also offering incentives to attract companies such as He GreenPower, an electric school bus maker that plans to employ 200 people in South Charleston.

Brendan Riley, president of GreenPower Motor Co Inc, said his company needs all kinds of fuel to power his car's battery charging stations. It does not pose a threat to coal profits because

"We are neither anti-coal nor anti-fossil electricity," he said.

Supporters said they hoped to see more support for clean energy and green tech companies as they hire more people in the state.

"I'm really excited to see what this will bring to small towns and cries across the state," said Conant, CEO of Solar Holler.

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan of Cape Elizabeth, Maine and Rose Horowitch of Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and David Gregorio)