CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Even after a nearly hourlong presentation, some lawmakers still weren't sure about the contents of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's five-year energy plan.
"If you had to say in two or three sentences, what is our energy plan? I'm still not clear what West Virginia's energy plan is," state Sen. Sam Cann, D-Harrison, told Division of Energy Director John Herholdt.
Herholdt said the plan is to "produce more energy for the nation's use."
That seems simple enough, but Herholdt had just finished painting a less-than-optimistic picture of the state's energy market: coal production is slipping, natural gas production is booming but prices are rising and renewable energy sources remain a small piece of the pie.
Coal production fell from 175 million tons in 2001 to 129 million tons in 2012, according to the state's five-year energy plan, prepared by the Division of Energy and presented to lawmakers at an interim meeting on Tuesday.
Herholdt attributed that decline to stricter federal standards for coal-burning power plants. He said six state power plants will have to close within the next few years, because they cannot afford to upgrade to cleaner-burning technology.
"That is a real challenge. That is why we have vociferously challenged the (Obama) administration on these standards," he said.
Plants in other states also are moving away from coal.
"We're a coal-appreciative state," Herholdt said. "We have generations of West Virginians that have been involved in the coal industry. We don't struggle over whether our utilities should use coal or not."
Other states are more conflicted, he said.
State Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, asked Herholdt about power plants inside West Virginia burning coal from outside the state.
Herholdt said some plants, influenced by low prices outside the Mountain State, burn as little as 50 percent of West Virginia-produced coal.
Going forward, the Division of Energy recommended lawmakers "advocate retention of coal-powered electric generation to ensure the continuation of affordable energy."