The 36th Governor’s Conference on Energy and the Environment continues today in Louisville. I was there yesterday, as a participant in a panel loosely structured around a conversation on Kentucky’s energy future, and coal’s role in that mix.

The other panelists were J. Steven Gardner, a mining engineer and president of ECSI; Art Williams of the Kentucky Conservation Committee and former head of Louisville’s Air Pollution Control District; and Rodney Andrews, the director of the University of Kentucky’s Center for Applied Energy Research.

I’m not going to rehash the whole panel, but here are a few takeaways from the conversation that I found interesting:

  • Gardner pointed out that when the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act was passed in 1977, everyone thought it would end surface mining altogether. It didn’t. Since then, the coal industry has found a way to comply with all the environmental regulations that have come down the pike—not that they don’t fight back against some of those regulations.
  • Williams predicted problems for Kentucky utilities that rely on coal as countries like India and China look to import more from the U.S. He says the price will rise here, and it’ll be too expensive to burn. Ironically, this is good news for coal producers.
  • In response to a question I asked, Andrews talked briefly about carbon capture and sequestration. He says the technology is there and viable, but it’s not commercially (ie. economically) viable. He added that putting a price on carbon dioxide isn’t necessarily essential to making the numbers work out, but it has more to do on how the government sets the rules.
  • Andrews also spoke about solar energy, and the various studies that have shown Kentucky has reasonable solar potential. He says solar would work here, but with the current technology, probably only in small-scale installations.

Today’s sessions focus on natural gas, energy efficiency, and a panel on how much Kentucky’s environment has improved (but interestingly, that panel only features experts from the Energy and Environment Cabinet, with no environmental advocates invited to weigh in).