- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The Republican-led West Virginia Senate passed a bill to eliminate a state alternative energy standard without opposition Wednesday — a repeal the GOP promised on the campaign trail, but one that many stakeholders say has little impact one way or another.

The Senate voted 33-0, with one senator absent, to repeal the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard.

The requirements were signed into law in 2009 under Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin as governor. The standard requires utilities serving at least 30,000 residential customers to generate 25 percent of their electricity with renewable or alternative power sources by 2025. City-owned utilities and rural electric cooperatives are exempt.

But alternative energy source is defined broadly, from a variety of coal-burning technologies and natural gas, to fuel from burning tires. An existing Morgantown coal power plant qualifies.

Last week, FirstEnergy official Sammy Gray said his company is fine with the standard in place. FirstEnergy could comply with the standard without increased costs, lost jobs, higher rates or business plan changes, Gray added.

The West Virginia Coal Association helped craft the law and, until recently, had defended it.

Last week, association president Bill Raney said the scenario has changed, with increased federal regulation and legal action affecting the industry.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said it’s important not to constrain energy production while the Central Appalachian coal industry is suffering.

“It puts a standard in place that’s outside of what the free market enterprise system would provide to (utilities),” Carmichael said.

Before Wednesday’s passage, senators rejected a Democratic amendment requiring the legislative auditor’s economic analysis of the repeal in July 2016.

Democrats had asked for the analyses, saying they want to determine if the repeal actually would preserve jobs and lower utility rates.

The GOP rallied against the portfolio on the campaign trail, and the party is currently using it against Manchin, who may run for governor again.

The House expects to vote on the repeal Thursday.

Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said Tuesday he isn’t altogether opposed to the repeal.

“I don’t think it’s going to make a big difference if the bill is repealed,” Tomblin told reporters Tuesday. “However, that part where investors have invested their money in the state, they should receive the credits they were promised.”

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