Research and Rescue: Bill Gates joins Manchin for discussion on transition to cleaner energy | News, Sports, Jobs
CHARLESTON — Despite taking a hit last fall with residents for supporting the $737 billion Inflation Reduction Act, US Sen. Joe Manchin brought tech entrepreneur and IRA supporter Bill Gates to West Virginia to promote the new law’s benefits for clean energy projects. Manchin, DW.Va., and Microsoft founder Gates held a fireside chat Monday afternoon at the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences. Manchin and Gates spent the day in Charleston meeting with Gov. Jim Justice and traveling around the region.
“I will say this about Bill Gates: The world is a better place because of the investments he has made,” Manchin said. Monday’s fireside chat event was moderated by Marshall University President and former Intuit CEO Brad Smith and sponsored by the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, AFL-CIO Charleston Area Alliance and Huntington Chamber of Commerce. The main topic of the fireside chat was West Virginia’s emerging role in the future of energy and the benefits of the IRA, signed into law by President Joe Biden in August 2022. The $737 billion IRA was negotiated between Manchin and Democratic leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives after he refused to support the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better package at the end of 2021. The IRA included $437 billion in spending on new investments in clean energy, climate change mitigation, an extension of Affordable Care Act subsidies, and funding for western drought resilience. It also includes $300 billion for reduction of the national deficit. To fund these provisions, the bill includes $737 billion in new revenues, including a 15% corporate minimum tax on book revenue $1 billion or greater reported by corporations on financial statements to investors, a 1% fee on stock buybacks by corporations, prescription drug pricing reform, and funding to hire 86,000 additional IRS employees. According to multiple news outlets, including Politico, Gates was one of the people calling Manchin and urging support for what became the IRA. Manchin said he became friends with Gates years ago and has frequently talked about the transition to cleaner forms of energy. Both Manchin and Gates traveled to a closed coal-fired power plant owned by AEP in Glasgow. Manchin and Gates believe the plant can be a possible test site for a new kind of nuclear power plant. Gates is an investor in a company building a small modular reactor at an abandoned coal-fired power plant in Wyoming. The SMR plant would use sodium to regulate reactor temperature instead of the traditional water-cooled nuclear plant. A SMR takes up less space than a traditional nuclear plant, is less complex, and believed to be far safer than normal plants.
“Bill and I have been talking about this for many years,” Manchin said. “We can be a small nuclear reactor state and still have coal and natural gas production. We can do everything that powers the greatest country on Earth.”
“There is a big transition taking place. It’s easy to underestimate how hard it is to change the energy infrastructure,” Gates said. “Unless we start from scratch with a new design, we won’t be able to have low-cost electricity.”
The West Virginia Legislature passed a bill last year eliminating a prohibition on the construction of nuclear power plants in the state, a prohibition that had been in place since 1996. Both the PSC and the state Department of Environmental Protection have rules and regulations in place dealing with the construction of new power plants and the handling of radioactive waste. New nuclear power plants also come under the authority of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The IRA includes a number of incentives and tax credits for clean energy. The law expands the 48C investment tax credit for domestic manufacturing to encourage investment in communities affected by the downturn in coal and other fossil fuels. The IRA also includes other incentives for clean energy technologies, such as renewables, electric vehicles, and energy storage. Gates is an investor in more than 100 companies in the clean-energy space, including Massachusetts-based Form Energy. The company announced in December that it would build a manufacturing facility for a proprietary kind of iron-air battery on the former Weirton Steel site. The new Form Energy facility will be a $760 million investment in West Virginia with the goal of creating as many as 750 jobs.
“There are very concrete projects that draw on the workforce here,” Gates said. “The fact that it’s a small state that is committed to a future and wants to create these new jobs, I think that’s pretty exciting. The country needs on the East Coast a state that wants to generate lots and lots of energy.”
The new battery can store electricity for up to 100 hours by breathing in oxygen and converting iron pellets to rust. An electrical current turns the rust back into iron. Form’s proprietary process will be used to help with energy storage for renewable energy projects. Another Manchin-supported project is taking advantage of tax breaks in the IRA. Maryland-based Competitive Power Ventures announced in December that Doddridge County will be home to a new 1,800 megawatt combined-cycle natural gas-fired power plant that will also use carbon capture and sequestration to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. The total investment of the CPV project is expected to exceed $3 billion and create up to 2,000 construction jobs and as many as 150 full-time jobs.
“All of this has happened because of the incentives we created … We want to invest in incentives,” Manchin said. “There is a difference between an incentive and penalizing on the front end. We can’t take any more taxes on energy, but we can be incentivized to move things forward.”
The IRA also includes an $8 billion tax credit for hydrogen production, which produces no emissions and only produces water as a byproduct. Hydrogen can be used for a number of industries, including steel and metals production. It can also be used for long-term storage of energy with hydrogen fuel cells. West Virginia is in the running for a regional hydrogen hub demonstration project. Most of the state’s federal and state elected leaders submitted an application to the US Department of Energy last year to land one of the regional hubs. Each hub is required to demonstrate the production of clean hydrogen and demonstrate the use of clean hydrogen. Lawmakers were able to insert specific language that requires at least one hub to be placed in the Appalachian region. Yet, even with the benefits that Manchin and Gates talked about, Manchin’s popularity took a hit late last year for supporting the IRA. According to Morning Consult, Manchin’s disapproval rating jumped to 51% during the third quarter of 2022, up from 38% between April and June. A Manchin-secured commitment from Democratic congressional leaders to support a permitting reform bill for energy projects failed when both progressive Democrats and Republicans balked.
“I know the Inflation Reduction Act was known as a partisan bill; it came across strictly as a Democratic bill,” Manchin said. “They say it’s a climate bill but trust me, it’s an energy security bill. I think we took a measured, reasonable approach, but it came across as a climate bill.”
Associated Press reporter Leah Willingham contributed to this story. Steven Allen Adams can be reached at [email protected].
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