Planning New Energy Future

Alternative energy cannot be a realistic option without an important system component. We need electricity all the time, not just when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.

West Virginia and other Appalachian states could provide that critical addition to the solar arrays and wind farms “green” energy proponents advocate.

It would be in the form of what amount to gigantic electric batteries — ways to store power generated by wind and solar until it is needed.

Pumped storage lakes and dams may be the answer. Here is how they work: Impoundments for water are constructed at different elevations. When alternative power facilities are generating, some of their electricity is used to pump water out of the lower lakes and into the higher ones. Then, when the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining, water can be released from the upper impoundments, flowing through hydroelectric generating stations to provide power.

When fuel sources such as coal and gas are used to generate power, there is little need for pumped-storage facilities. They or something like them are essential when dealing with alternatives such as wind and solar power.

But they can be controversial. A $1.2 billion pumped-storage facility is proposed for Tucker County, W.Va. Opponents fear it will damage the environment in that area.

How that proposal fares may be a test case for something Gov. Jim Justice has in mind. He believes pumped storage facilities and dams could serve three purposes.

First, the lakes could be helpful in attracting more tourists to West Virginia. Second, the dams and impoundments could help in flood control. Third, of course, the facilities could make our state part of a new energy future for the entire nation.

State legislators heard a brief report on the idea last week from Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Austin Caperton. He explained his agency is preparing a report on the matter, in cooperation with the departments of tourism and highways.

Caperton added the study is in its early stages.

It will make interesting reading once the report is submitted to the governor — and, beyond any reasonable doubt, it will be controversial. It could well have ramifications not just for West Virginia, but also for the nation as a whole.

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