Environment

Another of Kentucky’s coal-fired power units will be shut down in the next few years, further reducing the state’s carbon dioxide emissions.

Owensboro Municipal Utilities announced last week that it plans to shut down Unit 1 of the Elmer Smith Power Plant sometime between 2019 and 2021.

The Elmer Smith plant has two coal-fired units; Unit 2, the larger of the two, will continue to operate for the foreseeable future.

The plant is the latest of the state’s coal-fired power plants to be shut down. As the state’s coal fleet ages — more than half of the coal plants operating in 2011 were built before 1970 — utilities are being forced to decide whether it will save money to update the plants or shut them down. In many cases, the decision is influenced by stricter environmental regulations and the low cost of other fuels, like natural gas.

Elmer Smith Unit 1 produced more than a million tons of carbon dioxide in 2014. Kentucky is facing steep carbon dioxide emissions cuts under the federal Clean Power Plan, and the unit’s retirement will get Kentucky’s projected emissions a little bit closer to compliance with the federal standard.

According to the Energy and Environment Cabinet, a third of Kentucky’s coal fleet circa 2011 has already been retired or has announced plans to retire by 2020. Now with the retirement of one of Elmer Smith’s units, that number is closer to 35 percent.

Owensboro Municipal Utilities CEO Terrance Naulty said it no longer makes sense to keep operating the older Elmer Smith unit.

“It’s not driven by environmental regulations. This is a pure economic decision,” he said. “It makes more sense for us to invest in newer, cleaner, cheaper technology than to invest in the older coal-fired generation.”

OMU doesn’t have a plan yet to replace the 163 megawatts the plant generated, but Naulty said the solution will likely be natural gas or renewable energy. OMU is part of a new interlocal agency formed among a handful of Kentucky municipal utilities that will allow the utilities to leverage their buying power to save money on energy generation.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Assignment Editor.