Gov. Joe Manchin wants to build a series of liquid coal plants across West Virginia, despite citizen concerns about the effects of increased strip mining and the ramifications for global climate change.
Manchin's state Division of Energy kept the coal-to-liquids focus in a new draft of the governor's energy plan made public this week.
"Coal is uniquely positioned to be a cornerstone of a transition away from petroleum-based fuels," the new draft concludes. "West Virginia, with substantial quality coal reserves, abundant water, an established energy infrastructure and trained workforce, is in a position to capitalize economically on advanced coal technologies."
Energy Division officials did not respond to - or mention - citizen concerns about the proposal in the latest version of their "West Virginia Energy Opportunities" document.
Jeff Herholdt, director of the Division of Energy, said he didn't believe that a state energy plan was the right place to talk about strip mining regulation or greenhouse gas emissions.
"We're talking about apples and oranges," Herholdt said Friday. "That's a different subject.
Manchin began work on the energy plan in 2006, when he reformed the old Public Energy Authority, an agency created by Gov. Arch Moore to promote more coal-fired power plants.
Earlier this year, Manchin-backed legislation created the new Energy Division, and required that agency to write a five-year energy plan by Dec. 1. Under the law, the plan was supposed to discuss, among other things, "increased awareness of energy use on the environment and the economy."
At public hearings in September and October, citizens turned out to complain about the Manchin plan's focus on increased use of coal. They raised concerns about lax regulation of mountaintop removal and warned that coal-based power created more greenhouse gases than other energy sources.
"We're not pretending those people don't exist," Herholdt said, "but this is not an environmental report. I'm talking about energy resources."
Herholdt said an absolute final version of the report would not be prepared by the legal deadline.
Two weeks ago, Herholdt asked lawmakers to extend the deadline to Dec. 15. Manchin wanted the extension, Herholdt said in a letter, so that comments from participants in an energy summit co-sponsored by the governor could be included.
The summit is being held Tuesday at Stonewall Resort and Conference Center. Participants are to include governors or their energy advisers from 11 energy-producing states, according to an announcement Friday from Manchin's media office. The event is titled "Advancing Domestic Resources in an Era of Carbon Challenges."
The West Virginia Coal Association is promoting the event on its Web site, but says that attendance is by invitation only.
Matt Turner, Manchin's press secretary, said that only the governors, members of the Legislature and coal industry officials are invited.
The latest draft of Manchin's energy plan sets a goal of eliminating the use of imported oil in West Virginia by 2030. "West Virginians are free ... but not of foreign oil," the plan states.
However, the plan actually proposes to "displace" 1.3 billion gallons of oil by 2030. That figure represents 60 percent of state oil use, which is roughly equal to the percentage of oil imported nationally.
As did previous drafts, the new plan projects that the state could replace this oil with liquid fuel made from coal.
Rather than 10 plants that would produce 10,000 barrels of liquid coal per day each, though, the new plan calls for 5 plants that would produce 20,000 barrels each per day. Either proposal would require a 15 percent increase in state coal production, according to the energy division.
The plan concludes that "advanced coal technologies provide the same level of environmental beneficiation as" traditional coal-fired power plants, in terms of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.
"Advanced coal plants would also be able to capture and sequester [carbon dioxide]," the plan states.
The plan concedes that technology to capture carbon dioxide and store it underground "is still in the experimental/demonstration phase and has not been proven to be financially and technically viable yet for existing plants," but, the study says, "there is guarded optimism that current studies and experiments will refine and prove sequestration technology to be technically feasible, financially sound and environmentally safe."
In May, an international panel of scientists concluded that carbon-capture technology is still decades away from making a sizeable contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Herholdt said his agency had not reviewed that study or other reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change while drafting the state's energy plan.
"We tried to focus on West Virginia's energy opportunities," he said. "We are a state that has a lot of interest with the coal industry and a lot of our economy is based on coal. It makes sense to play to our strengths."
The report is available online at www.wvdo.org/community /EOD.pdf.
To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., use e-mail or call 348-1702.
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