Environment

A Kentucky social justice organization has completed an ambitious plan for the state’s energy future.

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth released its Empower Kentucky plan late last month. The plan is the result of two years of talking to people around the state about their vision for Kentucky’s future electricity generation.

It began as a response to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which set carbon dioxide reduction goals for each state. Under that regulation — which is unlikely to go into effect under the Trump Administration — states were encouraged to create their own compliance plans. Amid uncertainty in 2015 and 2016 about whether state regulators would create a plan, KFTC announced it would crowdsource one.

To do this, the group met with more than 1,200 people around the state, holding dinners and discussions in all six of Kentucky’s congressional districts. KFTC member Cassia Herron said the participants and their concerns ran the gamut.

“We know that people live this every day, and regular Kentuckians want to know what our future energy consumption looks like and how we can diversify our energy consumption and use,” she said. “So we thought that it would make sense to reach out to Kentuckians and develop a plan and a vision from what people want.”

KFTC heard from people concerned about pollution from coal-fired power plants and those wrestling with health issues from working in coal mines for years. They heard from people wanting more access to energy efficiency programs and those who were considering installing solar. And then, working with Synapse Energy Economics, a Boston-based energy consulting firm, they created their vision of Kentucky’s energy future.

The plan makes recommendations including reducing statewide electricity demand by 17 percent by 2032, generating a quarter of the state’s electricity from solar, wind or hydropower by 2032, ensuring 18 percent of energy savings benefit low-income residents and installing at least 1,200 megawatts of combined heat and power for commercial and industrial customers.

Getting there will be difficult. The plan acknowledges that simply ramping up energy efficiency measures and increasing renewable energy won’t be enough to significantly reduce pollution from coal-fired power plants. So the plan recommends putting a price on carbon — beginning with $1 per ton of carbon dioxide in 2018, and rising to $3 over 15 years.

“Some people call it a price on carbon, a tax, but really we look at it as an investment into Kentuckians,” Herron said.

The group’s analysis found the tax would have such a minimal impact on the state’s electric utilities that it wouldn’t result in any additional coal-fired power plant retirements.

“For that reason, we feel that we’re right in our assessments, that we need to make the investment to help really be intentional about what our future and energy usage looks like,” Herron said. “Instead of just not doing anything.”

They estimate the tax would generate nearly $2 billion in revenue by 2032. They recommend that money be invested in energy efficiency programs, job creation and retraining former coal workers.

KFTC’s proposed tax would cost a power plant like Louisville Gas & Electric’s Mill Creek anywhere from $7.6 million to nearly $23 million a year, based on the approximately 7.6 million metric tons of CO2 the facility emitted in 2015.

KFTC then turned its recommendations over to Synapse Energy Economics. Comparing the results to a “business-as-usual” scenario, Synapse found that by 2032, the plan would create 46,300 more job-years, eliminate 93,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and 132,000 tons of nitrogen oxide pollution, reduce carbon dioxide by 40 percent from Kentucky’s power sector and lower residential electricity bills by 10 percent.

The plan is still expected to be a hard sell among Kentucky’s politicians. Herron said KFTC members are planning to meet with Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet Sectretary Charles Snavely about the plan soon and will keep engaging people around the state.

“We want to continue to get the word out to regular citizens because people vote, and their legislators have to listen to them,” she said. “So we’re really hoping to continue to engage people so we can really come up with those policy pieces and then move legislators in that way.”

Herron also noted the plan is a vision, not a policy. KFTC is leaving the policy details up to lawmakers.

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL. She is also Enterprise Editor.