In Coal Country, WV Chamber Builds Focus On Energy Efficiency

Coal was first discovered in West Virginia in 1742. In the intervening centuries, it famously became one of the largest drivers of the state economy.

Today, however, the Charleston Area Alliance, an economic development giant that includes the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce, is promoting a vision for 2030 that predicts the region will be nationally recognized for “developing and commercializing innovative energy technologies.”

The vision 2030 document is designed to inspire area business and public policy leaders to develop an economy that “provides sustainable jobs for Kanawha Valley residents while simultaneously meeting megatrends of the future.”

And even though the West Virginia legislature recently decided to end its renewable energy law, the Charleston Alliance is determined to continue to develop its leadership in energy efficiency. To that end, the Alliance late last year hosted the second annual summit meeting on energy efficiency during which participants identified key priorities for 2015, including establishing a Property Assessed Clean Energy program and requesting that property appraisers include energy efficiency in their appraisals.

Charleston, the state’s capital and largest city, is located in Kanawha Valley in the western portion of the state, an area rich in coal. The 2030 vision document recognizes its history as a leading coal producer.

“There is no question the energy industry is a vital part of the West Virginian and Kanawha Valley economy,” the Alliance wrote in the energy section of the seven-part strategic plan: “While perhaps most widely known for its heritage in coal and later natural gas, West Virginians also understand the challenges fossil fuels pose both in the mining and sequestration of their carbon dioxide byproduct.”

The need to manage the business risk associated with resources and energy was most recently punctuated for Charleston during the Elk River Chemical spill in early 2014.  It was estimated that the contamination cost the area $61 million in lost output over four days.

With that reality, the area’s business leaders agreed that the future requires a diversified energy portfolio that begins with energy efficiency. To begin implementing its vision for creating a “culture of conservation,” the Alliance has primarily worked with the area’s largest utility, Appalachian Power, and Energy Efficient West Virginia, a not-for-profit founded in 2009 after electricity rates jumped by 43 percent.

Emmett Pepper, Executive Director of Energy Efficient West Virginia, describes energy conservation as a core way for businesses to control costs and cap risks.  “We have a great deal of room for growth and for enterprise in helping to provide energy efficiency,” Pepper said. “We’re working with utilities to bolster their energy efficiency programs and with the Legislature to help put in place policies that will help make businesses more energy efficient.”

Pepper said plans are also underway for year two of Energy Efficiency in the East End (E4), a creative competition designed to boost energy efficiency at the residential level.