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Geothermal Energy in West Virginia

Despite West Virginia’s diversity in the energy sector, many residents across the Mountain State are concerned with issues surrounding energy efficiency. A small group of Sierra Club volunteers and supporters delivered a petition signed by more than 500 concerned West Virginia residents to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Dec. 15, calling on him to boost energy efficiency policies in the state. The foundation of these concerns is centered around reducing energy waste (i.e. promoting renewable energy) as well as reducing the cost of electricity throughout the state. Lucky for these folks, there are plans brewing in West Virginia that just might answer this call.

Geothermal energy, or heat and electricity produced from the Earth’s naturally occurring underground heat, is gaining momentum in West Virginia. Conventional geothermal energy takes advantage of very hot temperatures near the surface of the Earth by either using a heat exchanger to produce hot air for heating or using this same hot air to generate steam to power generators and turbines.Scientists at Southern Methodist University’s Geothermal Laboratory have estimated that the geothermal potential in West Virginia is around 18,890 megawatts, or 75% higher than previously estimated. This moves geothermal’s potential from the shadows to the spotlight.

At that level of generation, geothermal has the ability to provide base-load power to the residents of West Virginia. Because other renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar are so intermittent in their ability to produce power, they do not have the opportunity to serve as base-load sources. They are only fit for mitigating peak demands for energy. These sources still play a role in the aforementioned energy efficiency idea, but the role is much smaller than with geothermal. The geothermal energy produced from the Earth’s heat is more than abundant, and West Virginia may soon be seeing this energy source explored with higher expectations.

Granted, in a state so heavily dominated by carbon based fuels, there is sure to be pushback from industry. All of the oil, gas, and coal companies in the state will (and always do) see any movement towards renewable energy as a threat to their livelihood, and this is to be expected. However, with so many residents concerned about energy efficiency and renewable portfolios in West Virginia, the carbon based energy companies of the past and present may soon be receiving some rather forceful pushback from the folks on the renewable side of the equation. All in all, alternative energy sources benefit the state. They promote efficiency and a cleaner environment while also pushing the price of energy down state wide. It will certainly be interesting to see this play out, and hopefully the people who see this as a major issue/opportunity will face the major industry players head-on to voice their concerns.