The West Virginia Senate Finance Committee advanced a bill to the full Senate Friday that would establish a state wind and solar reclamation bonding program.
Senate Bill 492 would establish a minimum bond value of $150,000 and exempt facilities with capacities less than 0.5 megawatts, meaning smaller solar energy producers and those with solar panels on their roofs would be excluded from the reach of the bill.
The intent of SB 492 is to add a mechanism for the state to reclaim abandoned wind and solar facilities, the same concept behind the state’s coal, oil and gas reclamation programs.
But unlike the state’s coal reclamation bonding program, which is based on a certain dollar amount per acre, SB 492 would require the state Department of Environmental Protection to determine bond amounts for wind and solar facilities based on predicted costs to potentially reclaim the facility. Operators would be required to submit a reclamation plan to the department.
Owners of wind or solar facilities who started operations before July 1 must submit a plan for decommissioning the facility to the DEP, including the scope of work to be completed and cost estimates for completion, as well as a decommissioning bond by July 1, 2022.
The bill gives the DEP the power to assess an administrative penalty of up to $10,000 for failure to submit a decommissioning bond and an additional penalty of up to $500 per day for each day a wind or solar facility fails to submit the bond afterward.
Most existing wind and solar projects already have decommissioning bond agreements in place, but they would be subject to DEP review under the proposed bill.
Unlike the original version of the bill as introduced, the committee substitute approved by the Finance Committee would exempt any regulated public utility from having to submit a decommissioning bond that can “successfully demonstrate to the Public Service Commission and the DEP an acceptable showing of financial integrity and long-term viability.”
FirstEnergy representative Sammy Gray told the Senate Energy, Industry and Mining Committee prior to its advancement of the bill to the Finance Committee Wednesday that the 0.5-megawatt total used as the cutoff point for exempting facilities from the bill is enough to power about 165 homes.
Under questioning from Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, DEP General Counsel Jason Wandling told the Finance Committee Friday that the original cutoff point for exempting facilities from the bill that he drafted was 25 megawatts based on a Montana statute but, due to concerns in the House Energy and Manufacturing Committee that advanced a nearly identical but since stalled version of the bill, the cutoff point was reduced to 0.5 megawatts, which he estimated was enough to power 400 to 800 houses a year.
“I think the concern in House Energy was that 25 megawatts might be a little big and would possibly exclude some solar facilities or wind facilities that may need state corrective action or reclamation later,” Wandling said.
Baldwin later asked Wandling whether he thought the $150,000 bond requirement was appropriate given the threshold change from 25 to 0.5 megawatts.
“I’ll say this from my experience with mining [reclamation], I would rather be safe than sorry,” Wandling replied.
A DEP fiscal note accompanying the original version of the bill cautions its implementation would require the department to incur additional personnel costs to complete bonding requirement responsibilities, and that deposits of penalties and interest income are not expected to be at a self-sustaining level for several years.
SB 492 is nearly identical to House Bill 2342, legislation that the House Energy and Manufacturing Committee advanced earlier this month to the House Judiciary Committee, where it stalled.
Bedington Energy Facility, LLC, a Delaware subsidiary of Colorado-based Torch Clean Energy, plans to invest $100 million to build a 100-megawatt solar facility on 750 acres at the former Dupont Potomac River Works explosives manufacturing facility in Berkeley County. A 90-megawatt solar farm in Raleigh County is expected to be operational in late 2022 or 2023, according to the project website.
Construction has started on the Black Rock Wind project, a 115-megawatt wind farm spanning Grant and Mineral counties expected to start commercial operations late this year and increase the state’s wind power by 15%.
Annual nationwide energy consumption from renewable sources exceeded coal consumption for the first time in more than 130 years in 2019, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data.
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