Modern Jobs Act Can’t Get off the Ground

By John McFerrin

In spite of its catchy nickname (The MOJO Act), the Modern Jobs Act did not make much progress during the 2019 session of the West Virginia Legislature.  It was not passed by either of the committees to which it was assigned.

The MOJO Act takes several realities and tries to put them together in a way that benefits West Virginia.  Those realities are:

  • West Virginia has more than 550 square miles of strip mined land and other degraded lands.98% of this land is just sitting there. The idea that there is this much strip mined land might make some of our hearts hurt but that is the reality. There are 219 square miles of land that are suitable for large scale solar farms.
  • There are major companies who have made commitments to using renewable energy at their facilities.
  • West Virginia gets more than 90 per cent of its electricity from coal.

These realities are set out in Legislative Findings in the bill; they are supported by research by the bill’s lead sponsor (Evan Hansen) and a company where he works (Downstream Strategies).

One difficulty with recruiting modern jobs to West Virginia is that two of these realities are in conflict.  If a company has a commitment to renewable energy, it will not come to a state where over 90 percent of the electricity comes from coal.

The MOJO Act attempts to make West Virginia more attractive to modern jobs by using the first reality (vacant strip mined land) to reconcile the second and third realities.  It does this by encouraging the building of solar energy facilities on old strip mine sites.

Of course, encouraging solar facilities on old strip mines does not guarantee that they will start popping up like dandelions in the spring.  That requires financing, customers, and a whole host of other things.  The MOJO Act just tries to remove barriers to this happening and encourage it.

Neither would the MOJO Act guarantee that modern jobs would flock to West Virginia like West Virginians to Myrtle Beach.  Modern jobs require modern workers, good roads, etc.  The MOJO Act just seeks help make renewable power more available and, by doing so, remove one of the barriers to a substantial portion of those jobs coming here.

The MOJO Act would only apply to large industrial users, those who use more than one megawatt per month.  It would encourage solar facilities by removing them from the control of the Public Service Commission.  Under present law, someone who wished to produce and sell electricity would be classified as a public utility, subject to the Public Service Commission.  Under the MOJO Act, someone could build a solar farm on an old strip mine and sell the electricity to a large industrial user free of the control of the Public Service Commission.

As originally introduced, the MOJO Act would have only applied to solar farms on strip mines.  As it advanced through the legislative process, co-generation was discussed and would have been added had the bill gone farther.

Co-generation is a process of using excess heat produced in some industrial processes.  Instead of allowing that heat to simply float away unused, co-generation turns that excess heat into electricity.  Under an expanded version of the MOJO Act such facilities would have been exempted from Public Service Commission control if they supplied electricity to a limited number of large customers.

Unless they have the enthusiastic support of the Governor or one of the big dogs of the Legislature, new proposals often do not make much progress in the Legislature their first year.  The MOJO Act may well be back next year when its supporters hope that it will make more progress.