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Reports outline strategy for heart of Appalachia to benefit from clean energy

March 18, 2021
By: Connor LaVelle

While the Appalachian region began the 21st century by expanding the reaches of its fossil fuel industries, clean energy development and carbon emission reductions are not yet out of reach for Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. A set of reports developed by the University of Massachusetts’ Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) present opportunities available to these states for the advancement of clean energy technologies within the region while also detailing the economic and employment benefits of potential climate stabilization programs.

The studies, individually turning their focus towards West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania, present outlines for clean energy investment projects that would allow each state to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 45 percent in 2030 and to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Additionally, the reports note that successful investment towards climate stabilization on the state and federal levels can provide a total of 243,000 jobs in Pennsylvania, 235,000 in Ohio, and 41,000 in West Virginia through the clean energy, manufacturing, infrastructure, agricultural, and land restoration sectors.

To achieve these goals, PERI examines the feasibility and availability of solar, wind, geothermal, low-emissions bioenergy, and small-scale hydro power sources throughout each state. Although natural gas has occasionally been perceived as a ‘bridge fuel’ between traditional fossil fuels and clean energy, PERI notes that the production process of natural gas negates any beneficial aspects of natural gas power production.

The PERI reports also examine the role of nuclear energy, a major energy generator for both Pennsylvania and Ohio. While nuclear power does not create harmful emissions, the reports cite the toxicity of nuclear waste and the risk of nuclear plant accidents as reason why, in the long term, nuclear power should be phased out as well in favor of lower-risk clean energy alternatives.

The PERI studies note that there is a large potential for job growth associated with the shift towards climate stabilization programs. Energy efficient investments throughout the Appalachian region would span a variety of job sectors, from upgrading public transportation equipment to updating the states’ energy grids. In addition to job growth within the traditional energy sectors, the reports also cite the roles that manufacturing, public infrastructure and land development sectors play in creating a more sustainable region.

Investments toward broadband internet expansion, manufacturing R&D, wastewater systems, land restoration, and regenerative agriculture can help build an ecosystem that benefits from clean energy, while also providing quality employment throughout West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. In addition to the stated job growth, the studies also present options to transition fossil fuel employees toward clean energy employment to lower the risk of joblessness associated with the decline of the natural gas and coal industries.

Through the investment of federal funding, including the money made available via COVID-19 relief packages, alongside state-level spending, the PERI reports find that the states within the Appalachian region can begin the transition towards zero emission energy production while also expanding the states’ job markets.

The PERI report on West Virginia’s clean energy potential may be found here, the study for Pennsylvania may be accessed here, and the Ohio report here.

Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginiaclean energy, appalachia