Environment

Kentucky coal has had a good year. So let’s talk about it. 

Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel and the single largest contributor to global temperature increases, according to the International Energy Agency.

It’s also deeply rooted in Kentucky culture and helped the state and the country prosper. Coal also keeps the lights on, and is still responsible for about 70% of the state’s electricity. Another 20% comes from natural gas.

Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet officials told lawmakers during an interim legislative hearing on natural resources and energy on Thursday that the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, economic policies and global weather events have contributed to rising prices. 

That has two direct impacts on the state: rising coal production and energy prices. 

“Coal and natural gas over the last several periods that we’ve monitored have been higher, and, as a result, we are going to face higher electricity costs for our citizens,” Energy and Environment Cabinet Deputy Secretary John Lyons told lawmakers. 

Utilities in Kentucky are expected to pass price spikes in coal and natural gas onto customers through fuel adjustment charges this winter, Kentucky Office of Energy Policy Executive Director Kenya Stump said. 

The fuel adjustment clause allows utilities to do that. Stump said she expects coal and gas prices go down next year as supply and demand reach an equilibrium.

Kentucky Energy and Environ

On the flipside, rising demand for coal has brought production out of a slump. Kentucky coal production took nosedive during the Great Recession and bottomed out in 2020. 

There are now more jobs, active mines and tax dollars going back to coal communities than there have been since the onset of the pandemic. 

Department for Natural Resources Commissioner Gordon Slone said there are now 86 active mines in Kentucky. That’s up from a historic low of 56 mines back in 2020.

Coal jobs are back up to a total of 4,765 in the state — a figure that’s still dwarfed by a number of other industries. Forestry for instance, directly employed nearly 27,000 people in Kentucky in 2020. 

Climate scientists say humanity must essentially halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 in order to limit global warming to 2.7 degrees. Ending our reliance on coal power is at the top of that list for cutting emissions. 

To ignore these warnings are, in the words of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Chair Hoesung Lee, to “miss a rapidly closing window to secure a livable future.”

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.