Coal is West Virginia’s most abundant mined product.
West Virginia is at the center of the Appalachian Mountain region. The state’s boundaries follow mountain ridges and rivers, giving West Virginia an unusual outline that includes two panhandles in the northern part of the state. One of the 10 smallest states in area, West Virginia’s borders stretch from a point north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, along the state’s northern panhandle to a point 70 miles north of North Carolina on the state’s southern border with Virginia. Temperature and precipitation vary with elevation, which ranges from less than 300 feet above sea level on the Potomac River in the eastern panhandle to more than 4,800 feet on the state’s highest peak. The mountain ridges that run northeast to southwest along the eastern side of the state are covered by forests and separated by narrow river valleys. In all, more than three-fourths of the state is forested, providing abundant biomass potential, and the narrow wind-swept mountain ridges in the eastern part of the state have ample wind resources. To the west, the flat-topped highlands and rounded hills of the Appalachian Plateau region contain much of West Virginia’s coal, the state’s most abundant mined product. Rivers that cross the Appalachian Plateau region have abundant hydroelectric power potential as well. Natural gas, crude oil, and natural gas liquids are gaining greater importance with the development of production from the Marcellus and Utica shales in West Virginia.
Even though West Virginia is a significant consumer of energy, in the top third among the states on a per capita basis, the state is a net energy supplier to other states, providing almost 5% of the nation’s total energy, largely because of its coal production. The electric power sector is the largest energy-consuming sector in West Virginia, followed by the industrial sector. Mining, including coal, crude oil, and natural gas extraction, is a large and energy-intensive part of the state’s economy. The energy-intensive chemical and primary metals manufacturing industries are also major economic activities in the state.
Less than 5% of the West Virginia’s electricity generation comes from renewable resources. Hydropower has long been used in mountainous West Virginia, and the state’s first hydroelectric power plants were built around 1900. West Virginia’s largest hydroelectric facility, with more than 100 megawatts of capacity, was built in the 1930s, and the newest, with a capacity of 80 megawatts, began operating in 2001. Of the state’s utility-scale hydroelectric facilities, the industrial sector operates the largest share, followed closely by electric utilities and independent power producers. Hydroelectric power accounts for less than 2% of the state’s net electricity generation. Power generation from wind energy is on the increase, but most of West Virginia’s wind energy potential is restricted to the narrow ridges in northeastern West Virginia. There are almost 600 megawatts of installed wind capacity in West Virginia, and, recently, wind energy contributed slightly more than hydropower to the state’s net electricity generation. Biomass and solar photovoltaic generation each contribute less than 0.01% to the state’s utility-scale electricity generation.
In 2015, West Virginia became the first state to repeal its renewable portfolio standard. In 2009, West Virginia had passed an alternative and renewable energy portfolio standard that required investor-owned electric utilities and retail suppliers with more than 30,000 customers to acquire 25% of their retail electric sales from eligible alternative and renewable energy resources by 2025. In addition to traditional renewable energy resources, West Virginia had allowed the use of a variety of other alternative, non-renewable technologies to meet the requirement, including advanced coal technology, coalbed methane, natural gas, fuel from coal gasification or liquefaction, synthetic gas, integrated gasification combined-cycle technologies, waste coal, tire-derived fuel, and pumped storage hydroelectric projects. The legislature further limited net metering, allowing utilities to offer net metering for distributed (customer-sited) generation on a first-come, first-served basis, as long the total generation capacity from those customers is no more than 3% of the electric utility’s peak demand during the previous year. At least 0.5% of that capacity is reserved for residential generation.
Coal-fired power plants account for nearly all of West Virginia’s electricity generation, and the 10 largest power plants in the state, by capacity, are coal-fired. Most of the rest of the state’s electricity generation is from hydroelectric, wind, and natural gas-fired facilities. West Virginia is one of only a half dozen states east of the Mississippi River that does not have any nuclear power plants.
West Virginia typically generates more electricity than it consumes. Although more than two-fifths of West Virginia households use electricity as their primary source for home heating, retail sales to all customers account for less than half of West Virginia’s net electricity generation. As a result, West Virginia is a net supplier of electricity to the regional grid. West Virginia is a leader in the nation in net interstate sales of electricity
West Virginia is the eighth-largest natural gas-producing state in the nation.
West Virginia is in the leading natural gas-producing area in the nation, and the state’s natural gas production has increased with the development of the Marcellus Shale. West Virginia is the eighth-largest natural gas-producing state in the nation, largely because of shale gas production. Natural gas production from shale wells surpassed the production from all other natural gas wells in the state for the first time in 2011. Shale wells now account for more than three-fourths of the state’s production. By 2014, West Virginia’s shale gas reserves exceeded 28 trillion cubic feet. Additional natural gas reserves exist in West Virginia’s conventional natural gas fields and as coalbed methane in the state’s many coal fields,although coalbed methane production and proved reserves are minimal.
West Virginia is crossed by more than 4,000 miles of interstate and intrastate natural gas pipelines. New pipeline projects have come online in recent years to move natural gas from the Marcellus producing areas of West Virginia to markets in the Northeast, Midwest, and Gulf Coast. Many natural gas processing plants and pipelines have been constructed or expanded in north central West Virginia. The processing plants separate dry natural gas from the associated natural gas liquids being produced from the Marcellus Shale. Pipelines have been built or are under construction to expedite development of the Marcellus Shale and the Utica Shale. Those pipelines transport natural gas liquids from Appalachia to the Texas Gulf Coast, as well as from Appalachia to eastern refineries. Natural gas moves in and out of the state via the interstate pipeline systems, entering West Virginia from the surrounding states, primarily Kentucky, and moving on to Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Ohio. On balance, more natural gas exits the state than enters because the amount of natural gas produced in the state is much more than West Virginia’s natural gas consumption.
West Virginia has 30 underground natural gas storage fields, all in depleted natural gas reservoirs. Those fields have a total storage capacity in excess of 500 billion cubic feet of natural gas and account for almost 6% of the nation’s total underground natural gas storage capacity. The proximity of this storage capacity to northeastern markets makes West Virginia an important supplier to the region during the winter months when natural gas demand peaks.
Natural gas use in West Virginia is spread almost equally across the industrial, commercial, and residential sectors. Because of the many miles of pipeline in the state, about the same amount of natural gas is consumed for pipeline and distribution use as is used in each of the other three sectors. Natural gas use in well, field, and lease operations is also about the same amount as is used in each of the end-use sectors. A small amount of natural gas is used for electric power generation. About two-fifths of West Virginia households use natural gas for home heating.
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