Legislative Update, More or Less

There are a couple of bills that may be of interest to Voice readers.  With the usual disclaimer that, this late in the session, things change every few minutes, here are some updates, guaranteed to be true as of press time but not beyond that.

Local Energy Efficiency Partnership (LEEP) Act

This Act has gained momentum and has a chance of passing.

The LEEP Act (SB 480) could empower local commercial building owners to form a special kind of contract with a financing company to create energy efficiency upgrades to their building. The contracts permitted have two unique aspects: First, the debt will be repaid ahead of the existing mortgage (with permission of the mortgage holder).

Second, the debt will stay with the building, not the building owner. This is important because it means that a building owner will not get stuck with a debt that it has to keep paying on even if it no longer owns the building. Commercial building owners can use this sort of contract if their local government enacts an ordinance allowing it.

The key benefits to LEEP-style financing are: 1. the energy saving is repaid equal to taxes in the case of a default, and 2. the payments are made along with property taxes, so whoever owns the building makes the payments. Thirty-two states have permitted LEEP-style financing.

The details of all this are mind numbing; the idea is simple.  If this passes, West Virginia will be one step closer to a way of financing energy efficient building upgrades, resulting in more efficient use of energy.

The bill passed the Senate 34-0 and was sent to House Government Organizations Committee.  It would still have to get on the agenda, pass the Committee, go the floor, and pass before the session is over.

Tax increase for industrial wind farms

            In order to encourage the development of wind energy, West Virginia has set the property tax rate on the equipment for wind farms much lower than the rate for most other businesses.  Industrial wind farms have been controversial, both around West Virginia and within the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.  How one feels about this tax break depends largely upon how one feels about wind farms, whether they should be subsidized, etc.  Historically, West Virginia has chosen to subsidize them with this tax break.

The Legislature has before it a bill that would take away the subsidy and tax the equipment at wind farms just as other property is taxed.

The proposal passed the Senate.  It is pending in the House and has been referred to the House Energy Committee and then to the House Finance Committee.  It would still have to get on the agenda, pass the Committee, get on the agenda in the second Committee, go the floor, and pass before the session is over.