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Home Energy Form Energy Bill Heads To Governor’s Desk | News, Sports, Jobs

Form Energy Bill Heads To Governor’s Desk | News, Sports, Jobs


State Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, throws his support behind a bill that would offer $105 million to help build Form Energy’s proposed battery plant in Weirton.

CHARLESTON – A bill to provide taxpayer dollars to a project to manufacture batteries on the site of the old Weirton Steel property is on its way to the desk of Gov. Jim Justice, but not before the bill underwent another lengthy debate in the West Virginia Senate Wednesday.

House Bill 2882, making a supplemental appropriation to the Department of Economic Development, passed the state Senate Wednesday afternoon in a 21-13 vote, completing legislative action.

HB 2882 transfers $115 million from available surplus tax dollars for the previous fiscal year to the department, with $10 million going toward broadband expansion projects and $105 million going to the Economic Development Project Fund as part of an overall $300 million package the state is providing for a proposed proprietary iron-air battery manufacturing project by Massachusetts-based startup Form Energy on a 55-acre site on the former Weirton Steel property.

Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, said HB 2882 will help with a project that represents a $760 million investment in the Weirton area with the goal of creating as many as 750 jobs in the Ohio Valley. Weld said the Form Energy project would go a long way to improving the morale of his community that still expresses nostalgia for the bygone days of Weirton Steel.

“I don’t want another future generation of children in Weirton feeling nostalgic for what was,” Weld said. “I want them feeling proud of what is. I thinking getting back to that starts today.

Senators debated the bill for more than two hours Wednesday after opponents offered three failed amendments to either direct the $105 million elsewhere or stripping the funding out of the bill entirely. That’s on top of a combined nearly three hours of debate over two days in the House of Delegates last week before the bill passed 69-25.

Supporters of HB 2882 said the economic impact of the Form Energy project and the number of jobs it would create was simply too important to vote no on and would be worth the investment. According to a report published by West Virginia University’s John Chambers College of Business and Economic, the facility would have an annual economic impact of $155 million based on data from the Department of Economic Development and Form Energy.

A letter penned by state Sen. Glenn Jeffries, R-Putnam, was instrumental in bringing a solar-powered titanium melt facility to Jackson County by two companies owned by Berkshire Hathaway. Speaking Wednesday in favor of the Form Energy project, Jefferies raised concerns about the message lawmakers are sending to other potential large manufacturers by rejecting HB 2882.

“We’ve got companies that are looking at us … you’ve got companies looking to locate in your area. What happens if we reach down here and hit that red button? What kind of message are we sending to the business community,” Jeffries asked. “I’ll continue hitting that green button for a job; that’s what we’re here to do … Don’t hit the red button and send a negative message.”

“If we reject the thousands of jobs that could come here under the theory that it is going to cost coal jobs, I think that is totally wrong,” said state Sen. Chandler Swope, R-Mercer.

Opponents called HB 2882 a pig with lipstick, questioning the economic benefits of the plant compared to the state’s investment, criticizing statements from Form Energy officials about using their batteries to end the use of fossil fuels, and accused supporters of putting coal mine jobs at risk.

“If you’ve ever seen a pig with lipstick, this bill is it,” said state Sen. Rupie Phillips, R-Logan. “At the end of the day, it’s still a pig. It’s a Trojan Horse. We’re letting a company come in here that does not support West Virginia.”

“I’m all for economic development … but this agreement has so many loopholes in it that you can strain spaghetti through it,” said Senate Energy, Industry and Mining Committee Chairman Randy Smith, R-Tucker. “I have a problem with not only using taxpayer money – the people who got us where we are today – but the severance tax from gas and coal that’s the biggest part of our budget … and we’re just going to give it to people trying to shut them down.”

Form Energy wants to manufacture a proprietary iron-air battery designed to store energy created by the wind and solar power industry. While the technology is not new, Form’s iron-air batteries have iron pellets that rust, creating oxygen that then reverts the rust back to iron, allowing the batteries to charge and discharge. Form’s proprietary system can store electricity for 100 hours, allowing wind and solar to become more reliable.

Form is putting $350 million upfront to get the project started. That state has already provided $75 million of the $300 million it has committed. The state will retain ownership of the land and buildings as a backstop to guarantee the state’s investment, while Form Energy meets certain project requirements. The state will provide another $110 million to Form Energy once the project is complete.

“We have security, we have collateral. We’re not giving them money. We’re not giving them a nickel. We’re not an investor in Form Energy,” Weld said. “We’re going to own the land and the buildings where they make these batteries. If they go belly-up, we own that land; we own that building. Now we can sell it to another manufacturer.”

Justice is expected to sign the bill, having announced the Form Energy project in December with company officials and lawmakers.

“There are some states in this country that try to rely on solar and wind to produce all of their energy,” Weld said. “How great would it be if the state of California was cloudy for a couple of days … how great would it be that in order to power their state they have to rely upon a battery that says ‘Made in West Virginia?’”

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