West Virginia University’s experts in energy policy and research are providing baseline information and strategic planning that will help the public and policymakers make decisions about the economic, environmental and social health of the region.
The Energy for the Power of 32 conference, held last week in Pittsburgh, brought together participants from 32 counties in Maryland, eastern Ohio, southwestern Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia – an area that totals approximately 17,380 square miles – to take a comprehensive look at how the region sources, uses and wastes energy, as well as plan for the future.
James Van Nostrand, director of WVU’s Center for Energy and Sustainable Development at the College of Law was the closing speaker at the conference. He says that the conference presented a valuable opportunity for WVU to join with other members of the Power of 32 Region and lead the nation in energy planning.
“The conference highlighted the advantages of doing energy planning on a regional level, given the common characteristics and interests that we share as a region,” Van Nostrand says. “We were pleased to be able to represent West Virginia as part of this planning process.”
Energy flow in the United State is complex. It begins with primary sources of energy, such as coal, and is converted into various useful forms of energy for residential, commercial, industrial or transportation sectors with varying degrees of efficiency.
At the conference, participants discussed the Energy Baseline, the first data-driven assessment of current sources of energy production, consumption and outcomes in the Power of 32 Region, which was commissioned as part of the strategic initiatives of the group.
Brian Anderson, director of WVU’s Energy Institute, was a member of the methodology advisory committee that helped develop the tool. He says it will serve as a quantitative inventory that will help guide regional energy strategies, setting goals and benchmarking progress. The baseline reports the region’s primary energy sources, shows the amount generated or imported, and illustrates where that energy was funneled and whether it was used, exported or wasted.
“The Energy Baseline is a critical first step in the process of developing a comprehensive energy strategy for the region,” Anderson explains. “It provides a starting point and helps identify areas of strength as well as those in need of improvement.”
The report revealed several unique characteristics, including that the region produced twice as much primary energy as it consumed. It also reported that of the 3,400 trillion Btu of primary energy produced within or imported into the region, 42 percent – enough to power more than 15 million homes – was lost as unused energy due to inefficiencies in the generation, distribution and end-use consumption of energy.
According to Van Nostrand, the conference’s 20 institutions will reconvene early next year to analyze the input and propose a strategy for engaging the 32 counties in the regional energy-planning process. “Although a wide variety of views were expressed, there were a number of themes that emerged to guide the process,” he says.
The Power of 32 was established in 2010 as a regional visioning project that would leverage common interests and resources to address critical regional issues to improve the regional economy and quality of life.
“We must understand energy in a global context and be aware that economic development and energy strategies must cross state borders,” Anderson says. “West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland are closely linked through geology and economy, so it is important that we think regionally about our energy future.”