West Virginia“Take me home country road.” Ah, West Virginia, home of the Blue Ridge Mountains, wild, untamed country—or is it? West Virginia, while home to gorgeous green mountains, also has a much blacker side—its history with coal. In recent years, this Appalachian state has made national headlines numerous times for deadly coal mine incidents, including one in 2010 that claimed the lives of 29 miners. Maybe it should look to more of its natural resources for renewable energy supplies.

While the state has made some inroads to building its renewable energy industry, West Virginia is still dominated by its coal industry. It offers residents some incentives, a tax credit, and a net-metering policy to convert to renewable energy. But it also focuses on helping residents adopt energy-efficient products to help them reduce their energy use.

The mountains and forests of West Virginia make it a great place for outdoor enthusiasts with some of the world’s best white-water rafting as well as fishing, hiking, mountain biking, skiing, hunting and more. But they don’t make it a great place for renewable wind or solar.

In fact, it’s the southernmost state that gets an average of about 4 kilowatt hours of sunlight per meter squared, per day. Even Maryland and Virginia, its eastern neighbors, get more sunlight. In addition, the state’s wind resources are limited to an eastern band of the state, where the Appalachian Mountains cross over the state.

Since West Virginia is a major coal producer, it’s also a large consumer of the fossil fuel, with 90 percent of the state’s consumption going to electricity production. And the overwhelming majority of West Virginia’s electricity comes from coal-fired power plants, with smaller amounts coming from hydroelectric dams on some of the state’s rivers. West Virginia’s energy consumption on a per capita basis is relatively low. However, the state is a major exporter of electricity, beat only by Pennsylvania in terms of electricity exported.

Despite this dark-power past, it’s almost a surprise that the state adopted a renewable energy portfolio. But it has. The state’s Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard requires investor-owned utilities (IOUs) to provide 25 percent of their generating capacity with renewable or alternative energy by 2025. While the alternative verbiage will allow a lot of the power to continue to come from non-renewable resources, the legislation does limit natural gas as a portion of the total to 10 percent.

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