Followers of US politics will not be surprised to know that the coal state of West Virginia has been achingly slow to join the solar power revolution. It currently ranks a lowly 49th in a state-by-state ranking of installed solar capacity. Nevertheless, three solar and energy storage projects are moving forward, indicating that a change is in the wind.
West Virginia To More Than Double Its Installed Solar Capacity
First up is a new 18.9 megawatt solar array at Fort Martin, which just went online at the beginning of January. It’s the first in a suite of five solar arrays planned by FirstEnergy Subsidiary Mon Power and its fellow utility Potomac Edison.
All together the five sites will total 50 megawatts in capacity. That doesn’t sound like much in a day and age when triple-digit solar development is commonplace. However, it is a huge deal in terms of the growth of the West Virginia solar power profile.
The last time we checked, the Solar Energy Industries Association clocked just 35 megawatts of installed solar capacity in West Virginia. The new arrays will more than double that figure, to 85 megawatts.
“The development and operation of renewable energy immensely impacts the local economy by bringing businesses to West Virginia. This not only creates jobs, but encourages economic development across the state, ” notes FirstEnergy.
Solar power from the five arrays will be made available to ratepayers under a voluntary subscription plan, so it will be interesting to see if there’s a rush to sign up. West Virginia ratepayers served by Mon Power and Potomac Edison can find out more by checking into the FirstEnergy website at firstenergycorp.com/WVSolar.
A Solar Power Microgrid For A New Battery Factory
That thing about renewable energy encouraging economic development across the state is not news to the West Virginia Economic Development Authority. In 2022, the agency tapped BHE Renewables to purchase a former aluminum plant in Ravenswood and redevelop its 2,000 acres of land into a “first-of-its-kind renewable energy microgrid-powered industrial site,” with solar power to be the renewable energy in question.
“The West Virginia Economic Development Authority is working with BHE Renewables to bring additional businesses to the site to take advantage of the prime manufacturing location and renewable energy infrastructure,” Governor Jim Justice’s office added in a press release.
Apparently BHE is leading by example. BHE is a branch of Berkshire Hathaway Energy, which is locating its Precision Castparts Corporation branch at the Ravenswood site.
PCC is tasked with developing “a state-of-the-art titanium melt facility that will use 100% renewable energy to manufacture titanium products for the aerospace and other industries,” BHE announced in a press release in September of 2022.
“Manufacturing our products with 100% renewable energy benefits PCC and our customers as we strive to minimize the impact of our operations and wisely use natural resources,” added PCC President Steve Wright.
Last March, the Governor’s office also announced that the Michigan energy storage innovator Our Next Energy is setting up shop at the Ravenswood site. The company will deploy Aries lithium iron phosphate battery cells from its Michigan factory to produce energy storage systems at a new plant in Ravenswood. It will also produce a system to be used in the BHE microgrid, ensuring 24/7 access to solar power for itself and other tenants at the site.
“The BHE Renewables microgrid project, estimated at 420 MWh, in Jackson County represents a historic transition to renewable energy-based manufacturing in the U.S. and establishes a standard for others to follow,” enthused ONE founder and CEO Mujeeb Ijaz.
“Building upon BHE Renewables’ commitment to this site and the State of West Virginia, ONE’s first Aries Grid factory will bring even more jobs and investment to this area to help clear a path to a carbon-free manufacturing future,” Ijaz added.
Coal State To Export Coal-Killing Batteries To Other States
Repurposing an abandoned industrial site is also the theme behind another energy storage innovator taking up roots in West Virginia. Last month, CleanTechnica took note of the Massachusetts startup Form Energy, which has developed an iron-air battery that falls into the much-desired long duration energy storage category. The company scouted 500 potential sites for its new factory around the country before settling on the former Weirton Steel plant in West Virginia.
“The attraction consisted partly of availability of a suitable brownfield, the abandoned Weirton Steel plant on the Ohio River. Access to river, rail, and highway transportation corridors was another factor, and the offering of a state incentive package worth up to $290 million sealed the deal,” we wrote.
The US Department of Energy has set a minimum goal of 10 hours for long duration systems. Storage systems that can last for 10 hours or longer will help shepherd more wind and solar power into the grid.
Form claims 100 hours of duration for its energy storage system, which it will mass produce in West Virginia for use all around the country.
A $700 Million Innovation Corridor For West Virginia
To ice the renewable energy cake, on January 3 Governor Jim Justice announced that LG NOVA the new startup launchpad established by LG Electronics, has embarked on a five-year, $700 million initiative to establish an innovation corridor in West Virgina. The corridor will be anchored by new LG NOVA offices in Huntington and Morgantown, where Marshall University and West Virginia University are located.
It remains to be seen what role solar power will play in the mix. LG NOVA launched in 2021 and so far its main focus appears to be on digital health systems. However, it does support a clean tech mission.
“We want to deliver solutions that create greater access to clean energy and sustainability solutions across global communities enabling everyone to contribute to and benefit from a healthier planet,” LG NOVA explains. “With a focus on growing the impact of clean technology solutions, we’re creating new opportunities for businesses and people.”
Another project to keep an eye on is a new solar power testing facility planned for the I-79 Technology Park in Fairmont, under the umbrella of West Virginia University. Last January the school reported that the project on track to receive a $2.3 million grant from the US Department of Energy.
If all goes according to plan, the testbed will also double as a solar power microgrid with energy storage for tenants of the site.
‘The High Technology Foundation, developer of the I-79 Technology Park, is moving the park towards carbon-neutral operations in response to a growing demand from its knowledge-sector tenants,” WVU notes.
No surprises there. Despite all the ranting and raving against ESG investing from the Republican side of the aisle, US businesses want more clean energy, and they are getting it.