Though legislators discussing West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's five-year energy plan a few weeks ago seemed uncertain exactly what it means, the governor's foundation was made plain.
As Division of Energy Director John Herholdt told lawmakers, state officials should "advocate retention of coal-powered electricity generation to ensure the continuation of affordable energy."
West Virginia's official, statutory policy now is precisely the opposite of that.
That may seem incredible in view of the hundreds of pro-coal pronouncements made by state officials during the past few years.
But it's true: In 2009, legislators approved and then-Gov. Joe Manchin signed into law a mandate that utilities move away from the coal-fired power plants that have made West Virginia electricity prices among the lowest in the nation.
It was then that the state's renewable energy mandate went into effect. It provides that electric companies must provide 25 percent of their power from renewable or alternative energy sources by 2025.
A variety of acceptable alternatives to conventional coal-fired power plants are allowed by the law. They include natural gas, hydroelectric and some advanced coal technologies. Strangely enough, "tire-derived fuel" is on the list.
While the statute provides no penalties for failure to meet the 25 percent, it is the law of the land.
Several other states have renewable and/or alternative energy requirements - and consumers there already are paying more for their electricity. According to the Institute for Energy Research, states enforcing such mandates have electricity prices more than 50 percent higher than in West Virginia.
Herholdt is right. State policies should encourage use of electricity from coal-fired power plants, which are becoming cleaner and cleaner. But as matters stand, utilities are being told to move away from coal.
That's crazy, especially in light of President Barack Obama's war on coal and affordable electricity.
Even more incredible is that since the mandate was enacted, a few thoughtful lawmakers have attempted to rescind it - but have been rebuffed by leaders in the Legislature.
Tomblin's plan, as outlined by Herholdt, makes sense in regard to coal. The governor's next step should be to call for repeal of the anti-coal mandate.