By Brad McElhinny, WV Metronews
Bill Gates, the tech giant who has taken a big interest in energy initiatives, says West Virginia is primed for new opportunities.
“There’s a big transition taking place,” Gates said at an appearance in Charleston, describing a shift to increasingly efficient batteries, compact and safer nuclear production facilities and more.
“You know we’re already seeing some of these companies coming to West Virginia.”
Gates participated in a casual conversation with Senator Joe Manchin at the Clay Center in Charleston before a crowd of West Virginia political figures and business leaders. Their talk was led by Brad Smith, president of Marshall University and former chief executive of Intuit.
Behind the three were United States and West Virginia flags along with signage designating the event’s theme as “America’s Energy Powerhouse. West Virginia’s Role in the Future of Energy.”
“West Virginia has a proud history of always answering the call,” Smith said, moving toward a discussion about the kinds of jobs that might be available through energy transition.
Gates and Manchin have common ground with the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes $369 billion for energy security and climate change programs over 10 years.
Manchin is the political force behind the policy, and Gates is an investor who could harness its incentives.
“He sees the need for, basically, the fossil fuel, the coal that we produce, the natural gas we produce. And all the things we’re going to need for quite sometime,” Manchin told reporters after the talk with Gates.
“And we can do it cleaner and better than anywhere in the world. We’ve proven that. Inflation Reduction Act has given us so many opportunities with the bipartisan infrastructure bill to bring companies from all over the world.”
Gates, the founder of Microsoft, got a whirlwind tour of West Virginia and its prominent figures.
Earlier in the day, Gates met with a group of West Virginia political leaders including Gov. Jim Justice, Manchin, Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Congresswoman Carol Miller, state Senate President Craig Blair, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, Commerce Secretary James Bailey and state Development Secretary Mitch Carmichael at the Governor’s Mansion.
And Gates visited a closed down coal-fired plant in Glasgow, Kanawha County, viewing it as the kind of facility with potential to be transformed for nuclear energy technology. Organizers of the visit emphasized that no announcement is anticipated, only that Gates has shown interest in helping to breathe life into coal communities through new technology.
“I wanted to show him the opportunities. When we have a coal plant that times out, that usually means there’s nothing in the town to take its place. We have an opportunity now,” Manchin told reporters. “He’s able to see first-hand. He was very excited about that.”
The Gates-backed company TerraPower is planning to build its first Natrium reactor in the frontier-era coal town of Kemmerer, Wyoming. Gates told The Associated Press on the site visit in Kanawha County that in order to expand his efforts to new sites, he and his partners need to see how the Wyoming project matures.
Gates is among the billionaire investors in Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which a financial backer of the Form Energy project that has announced a cutting-edge battery factory at the site of the old Weirton Steel mill in Hancock County.
That project is among the first to be directly related to the Inflation Reduction Act.
Also directly related to the Inflation Reduction Act is Competitive Power Ventures, which in December announced a $3 billion natural gas power plant for Doddridge County. There appears to be no Gates involvement in that one.
“There are very concrete projects that draw on the workforce here,” Gates told the crowd at the Clay Center.
He continued by saying, “I think you’re going to see a wave of them drawing on the strengths the state has.”