Stretching all the way from Northern Alabama to the Southern Tier of New York, Appalachia has always been a place that is as rich in culture as it is in natural beauty. The largely rural region has a long history of coal production that has been essential to the building of our nation throughout the last 150 years.
But like the rest of the country, the Appalachian economy is changing, and coal no longer holds the same sway in our new, multi-sourced energy economy; the EIA currently estimates that U.S. coal production is down over 18 percent compared to last year. However, Appalachia has a path forward by investing in energy innovation, including technologies to improve the efficiency of coal.
In the heart of Appalachia—and perhaps the state most closely identified with the region—West Virginia is looking to bring coal into the 21st Century. To this end, U.S. Representative David McKinley (R-WV) sponsored HR 5865, the Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage Innovation Act. Using advanced energy storage techniques, the bill aims to optimize coal-sourced energy in West Virginia—a much-needed lifeline for the venerable power source.
Rep. McKinley is also a strong supporter of the state’s broader energy efficiency sector, which is providing countless new opportunities; in fact, West Virginia had nearly 7,200 energy efficiency jobs in 2019, a 4 percent increase from the previous year.
The Carolinas are also synonymous with Appalachia, and today, North and South Carolina are both leaders in the solar industry.
With more than 6,000 megawatts installed to date, North Carolina has the 2nd most solar developments in the nation, up from 6th place in 2019. Between 2007 and 2018, clean energy development contributed $1.4 billion in tax revenue to the state. U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) and U.S. Representative Richard Hudson (R-NC) are two leading conservative voices who have recognized the good clean energy has done for their state and pushed for legislation to further solar energy development.
South Carolina’s solar capabilities are also rising fast; last year the state witnessed the highest increase of solar capacity. The industry has had a consistent ally in U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is a member of the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus and the Climate Solutions Caucus. Sen. Graham is also an advocate for nuclear power, which employed nearly 5,000 workers in South Carolina in 2019.
Although New York is rarely thought of as Appalachian territory, its Southern Tier looks and feels like much of the rest of the region. U.S. Representative Tom Reed (R-NY) represents much of that area and is focused on many of the same concerns. Last year, he introduced the Energy Sector Innovation Credit Act of 2019 to help accelerate clean energy development.
Just last month, New York passed the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth & Community Benefit Act to streamline the building process for clean energy projects and help restart the state’s economic recovery. Combined with Rep. Reed’s tax credit, New York’s clean energy economy could receive a major boost.
Economies spanning the Appalachia region have been hit hard over the last few months, even in the growing clean energy sector. A new report from E2 reveals significant clean energy job losses due to COVID-19 in West Virginia (1,606), North Carolina (17,293), South Carolina (7,847), and New York (14,398).
Obviously, workers need relief now more than ever. But government stimulus packages will only go so far to meet these worker’s needs. The true path forward is self-sufficiency, and clean energy will get us there. Through expanding our nation’s advanced energy economy, our workers will return to the steady, well-paying jobs they need to support their families and neighborhoods.
Every day, Republican lawmakers in Appalachian states and across the country are making a difference so people in their states and districts can get back to work as soon as possible. Using an all-of-the-above energy approach, energy workers will have more employment opportunities, and consumers will benefit from the competition.
In the coming weeks, we will continue to blog about different regions of the country to examine their clean energy resources and the local jobs impact. We will also be highlighting efforts by individual Republican lawmakers from those regions to share how they are helping to drive economic growth and job creation through clean energy.