How the Energy Transition Can Create Jobs, Save Our Growing Outdoor Economy, and Protect West Virginia’s Outdoor Way of Life

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West Virginia has an opportunity to lead the country into the next century, while saving our $1.3 billion outdoor recreation economy

By Patti Duncan

This summer West Virginia has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lead the country’s energy transition and create thousands of good paying clean energy jobs here at home. In doing this, we can also protect The Mountain State’s booming outdoor recreation industry that contributes 18,000 jobs, while indirectly supporting thousands more small businesses. And in growing our economy this way, we have a shot at leaving our air, water, and land better than we found it, which is priceless. But we must act quickly and boldly moving forward.

As a growing resort community, Snowshoe works every day to maintain a vibrant regional economic engine while keeping the Allegheny Mountains “Forever Wild.” Pursuing those twin goals, Snowshoe has grown from a relatively small ski village into a 11,000-acre, world-class, year-round resort that is attractive precisely because it values its environment.

The clean air above our mountains and clean waters in the “Birthplace of Rivers,” drive $90 million directly back into West Virginia. Additionally, Pocahontas County contributes on average $1.5 million annually in hotel taxes associated to fund our hospital, emergency services, libraries and so many other vital services. But that’s just our county. Statewide outdoor recreation directly funds $640 million in wages and salaries in the state and contributes $1.3 billion to West Virginia’s economy each year.

West Virginia’s outdoor, hunting, fishing, rafting, and yes, skiing, way of life is dependent on stable temperatures and precipitation. Our 1.4 million acres of public lands are experiencing growing demand from both West Virginians and tourists. But, along with the growing interest, we are also seeing shifting snowfall patterns and larger temperature swings. At the resort we’ve met the changes with significant investments in more efficient snowmaking and are fortunate to be located on Cheat Mountain, one of the highest peaks in the state. But that won’t be enough long term.

To save our outdoor lifestyles and livelihood and grow our economy, we must make America a leader in energy security for the next 100 years. Renewable energy jobs are some of the fastest growing in the country. Currently, renewable energy makes up 20% of energy created in the U.S. By 2030, that figure is predicted to more than double. In West Virginia, there were 9,000 clean energy jobs in 2020, with 10% job growth in the second half of 2020 alone.  We must continue to create these new, good paying jobs in clean energy manufacturing, and we can do all of this while placing West Virginia at the front of wind and solar energy, storage, and Electric Vehicle (EV) production.

Making electric trucks, SUVs, and minivans accessible to more people, will have the biggest impact on people who live in more rural areas, like many of us in West Virginia. People in the country and suburbs tend to drive longer distances in bigger vehicles, spending more on gas and maintenance; two things that instantly drop in cost when driving EVs. To do that we will need fast charging infrastructure throughout the state. We’re adding to that effort at Snowshoe with our charging stations at the base of the mountain, which will grow along with demand.

And while we make driving more affordable for West Virginians, we can also create more good jobs in the state. Sparkz is planning to build EV batteries in West Virginia, creating 350 jobs to start, in partnership with the United Mine Workers of America. And those batteries have a home nearby in the expanding Toyota and Hino plants, which manufacture EV and EV parts in our state. Let’s build on this momentum through Manchin’s proposed federal investments in clean energy and EVs.

As the chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator Manchin is in an incredible position to make our state a leader in American energy security.

We appreciate his leadership on negotiating a deal for the energy transition and are eager for him to see the $369 billion for climate and energy proposals through to the President’s desk – the most ambitious climate action ever taken by Congress. This investment in domestic energy production will lower energy costs, increase cleaner production, and reduce carbon emissions by roughly 40 percent by 2030, which is a big step toward protecting West Virginia’s outdoor way of life.

With his work on the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 and his chairmanship, Senator Manchin can boldly create good jobs for today and tomorrow by ensuring that wind, solar, EV and storage manufacturing, and a secure energy grid and infrastructure for the future have the investment they need – especially here in West Virginia. And at the same time, this will help to protect the state’s growing outdoor economy, create and protect jobs, and leave a legacy that ensures that future generations will also ski and ride at Snowshoe, paddle, and fish our rivers, and have clean air to breathe under starry skies.

The time is now.

As originally printed in the West Virginia Gazette-Mail on July 31, 2022. Available online here.

About the Author:

Patti Duncan is the President & COO of Snowshoe Mountain Resort

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