Charleston, WV - For a nearly a decade, our state’s leading industry has been the target of an economic war. The War On Coal.
Liberals in Washington, D.C., and even within our borders chose our state and nation’s most stable, cheapest energy source to target for destruction. By very definition, that’s against our families, our family budgets and our State of West Virginia.
Now, thanks to the election of President Donald Trump and adding more conservative leaders to our Legislature in Charleston, we have a chance to repair some of the damage and get our state going again.
The coal industry had no safety net. Sadly for our jobs and towns, seemingly every source of energy we don’t produce in West Virginia got help. Industries that don’t employ West Virginians have received free money, tax credits, interest free loans, and absolutely no consequences when they fail to deliver the power we need.
A great example of trying to take back our state from those who sabotage our own local energy industries is a bill I sponsored, Senate Bill 16 (SB 16).
That bill forces the companies who own and operate those giant windmills, as we have in my district, to pay their fair share of property taxes to back our schools and roads.
For 16 years, the wind industry here has gotten a pass on loads of taxes. We estimate the state would add $8 million per year if they simply got the same treatment as our other businesses – about $3.4 million would benefit counties directly.
Wrong-headedly, under folks like then-Governor Joe Manchin, the windmill projects in West Virginia were artificially classified as “pollution control facilities.” That means they were part of a cap and trade scheme, that chose winners from most every energy source that wasn’t coal.
Instead of controlling pollution, these tax credits served to make energy more expensive to consumers. Plus, the line of towers you see in my home of Tucker County produces power that doesn’t even go to West Virginia.
That’s probably good, since wind power costs many times as much for the same electricity we get from burning coal here. The Senate has voted to pass SB 16, which means that these supposed wind farms will pay property taxes that are assessed like any other business. For 16 years, the wind industry has gotten bonuses here superior to most every other state.
Allowing the industry to continue to operate without paying property taxes while the counties where the windmills are located are forced to close schools, and terminate teachers and law enforcement due to a lack of funds is a ludicrous error.
When you include that a dozen or fewer permanent jobs in West Virginia exist because of these expensive windmills that serve folks in other states, you realize just how unfair all of this is to West Virginia.
It is critical in these difficult economic times that we put coal first, but also make sure that the citizens and our schools and counties get a fair shake. We want to broaden the base of those who pay taxes, to support all the services we value. Our state is faced with an unimaginable financial crisis, and as the Legislature puts together the budget for next year, there will be programs that have to take some pretty hard cuts. It seems pretty unfair to the taxpayers of this state, and the citizens who rely on those important programs, that these corporations get a free pass when so many others do not.
Making sure the wind industry pays appropriate property taxes is a start toward making every tax bill fair and making sure consumers get the best price for the energy they truly want to use.
Let’s put West Virginia first.
Senator Randy Smith, R-Tucker, represents the 14th Senatorial District, which includes Preston, Barbour, Tucker, Taylor, and Hardy counties and parts of Monongalia, Grant, and Mineral counties. He is a coal miner, and is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy, Industry, and Mining.