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    New report finds WV lagging in clean energy jobs, but Sparkz factory site announcement and budget package could help


    August 4, 2022 - Mike Tony, The Charleston Gazette-Mail, W.Va.

     

      Aug. 4—Congress is preparing to vote on a sweeping spending package designed to accelerate the nation's transition to and create thousands of jobs in clean energy.

      A new report suggests that West Virginia has a lot of ground to make up in that category.

      The report from Environmental Entrepreneurs, a nonpartisan group of business leaders and investors, finds that West Virginia had the third-lowest share of its workforce employed in clean energy in 2021.

      West Virginia's clip of 1.4% was higher than only New Jersey and Oklahoma, according to the seventh annual Clean Jobs America report produced by Environmental Entrepreneurs based on the U.S. Energy and Employment Jobs Report. West Virginia had 9,540 clean energy jobs, more than only three other states (North Dakota, Wyoming and Alaska).

      West Virginia should learn soon by the end of next month where an influx of at least 350 clean energy jobs eagerly anticipated by the White House and West Virginia leaders will be located in the state.

      Sparkz, a California-based battery supply startup, will announce the site of its West Virginia plant by the end of September, company spokesman Paul Tencher told the Gazette-Mail Tuesday.

      Sparkz announced in March that the company would build a battery plant in an unspecified location in West Virginia that would employ at least 350 people.

      Sparkz CEO Sanjiv Malhotra said at a press conference at the Robert C. Byrd Institute at Marshall University in South Charleston that month alongside Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., that his mission is to help build a battery supply chain independent of China-sourced materials as lithium-based batteries become increasingly vital to commercial markets.

      Malhotra said in March that Sparkz would announce the factory site by April, but Tencher said in May that Sparkz was still working to "find the perfect location to build and grow."

      "No issues or obstacles," Tencher said in an email Wednesday. "Just a process to follow and we expect it to conclude in September."

      Sparkz said it will recruit and train dislocated miners to work at the factory in partnership with the United Mine Workers of America.

      The initial workforce of 350 could increase tenfold if the plant can scale up production, Malhotra said — a goal he said his company won't reach if it can't ensure high-precision battery manufacturing training for workers.

      Sparkz is excited about the climate, health and tax budget package championed by Manchin and edging closer to a vote in the Senate, Tencher said, predicting that private market incentives included in the Inflation Reduction Act would create new customers for "our American-made energy solutions."

      The Inflation Reduction Act, which includes $369 billion in clean energy and climate spending, would move climate technology forward and create jobs for West Virginians, Tencher said.

      The measure includes $60 billion for domestic clean energy manufacturing, featuring $30 billion in production tax credits for solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and critical mineral processing.

      Many of the Inflation Reduction Act's tax incentives encourage locating new facilities in coal and power plant communities.

      The bill would extend a current production tax credit for electricity generated from renewable resources for five years for facilities that begin construction before 2025. The credit rate would be increased by 10% for any facility in a census tract or adjacent census tract in which a coal mine has closed since 2000 or a coal-fired electric generating unit has shut down since 2010.

      Placing an energy property in those same communities would increase an investment tax credit expanded to include energy storage technology, which includes batteries, by 2 percentage points or 10 percentage points if the taxpayer meets prevailing wage and apprenticeship requirements.

      Prevailing-wage laws mandate that wages for construction workers on public works projects reflect area wages for similar jobs.

      The taxpayer and any contractor or subcontractor that employs four or more workers to perform construction on a qualifying project must employ at least one qualified apprentice to do the work.

      United Mine Workers of America International president Cecil Roberts has come out in favor of the Inflation Reduction Act, predicting that extending tax credits to renewable energy supply chain manufacturers that build plants in the coalfields will help provide good jobs in those communities.

      Amanda Woodrum, a senior researcher with Policy Matters Ohio, a progressive nonprofit think tank, warned during a call among members of the ReImagine Appalachia coalition of environmental and community organizations Tuesday that tax credits could have unintended adverse impacts if not implemented properly.

      "One of our biggest concerns about tax incentive-led economic development is that it often relies heavily on having to recruit massive companies [with] profit margins that can actually take advantage of these kinds of tax credits," Woodrum said.

      But Woodrum added that the Inflation Reduction Act allows smaller companies to capitalize on the investments that it enables.

      Small Business Majority, a national small business organization, submitted a letter to congressional leadership last week supporting the bill, saying it would help level the playing field for small businesses by lowering prescription drug costs hurting small business owners' bottom lines and imposing a 15% minimum tax on adjusted financial statement income for corporations with profits over $1 billion.

      The BlueGreen Alliance, a national coalition of labor unions and environmental organizations supporting the Inflation Reduction Act, has projected the bill's expanded tax credit to support manufacturing for clean energy technologies would help create more than 220,000 jobs.

      Energy Innovation, a San Francisco-based energy and climate policy firm, has projected that the bill could create 1.5 million jobs while avoiding from 3,700 to 3,900 deaths by cutting emissions by 2030.

      The Rhodium Group, a nonpartisan research group, projected the new bill would cut net greenhouse gas emissions by 31% to 44% below 2005 levels in 2030, besting the nation's current track of 24% to 35%.

      Meeting the Rhodium Group's projection would push the country closer to the Biden administration's goal of a 50% to 52% emissions reduction. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says a 43% reduction is needed to limit global warming to about 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

      Deployment of renewables is shaping the nation's energy present, not just its energy future.

      Solar, wind and battery storage are projected to more than triple natural gas in operating and planned generating capacity additions for 2022, according to data released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration Wednesday. Coal-fired power plants will account for 76% of retirements this year, followed by natural gas at 12%.

      Coal industry voices are speaking out against the bill.

      Michelle Bloodworth, president and CEO of America's Power, a partnership of industries involved in generating coal-fired electricity, predicted that the Inflation Reduction Act would quicken the closure of coal plants by extending tax credits for wind and solar, a move she said was no longer necessary for wind and solar to expand.

      West Virginia Coal Association president Chris Hamilton has expressed concern about the Inflation Reduction Act, saying its embrace of renewable energy threatens to further displace coal.

      Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the full Senate will consider the Inflation Reduction Act this week.

      Clean energy jobs are poised to keep growing in the meantime.

      Clean energy and clean transportation jobs grew by more than 5% in 2021, according to Environmental Entrepreneurs' analysis of federal jobs data.

      Employment growth in clean vehicles led the way, rising 56% from June 2020 to December 2021.

      Sparkz is focused on batteries both for the transportation sector — including farming and mining equipment — and energy storage.

      "There's clearly a huge demand for electricity, for affordable power that can be provided with a combination of generating technologies like solar, wind, etc., along with storage or batteries," Malhotra said in March.

      Mike Tony covers energy and the environment. He can be reached at 304-348-1236 or mtony@hdmediallc.com. Follow @Mike__Tony on Twitter.

      ___

      (c)2022 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.)

      Visit The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.) at www.wvgazette.com

      Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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