Environment

The Kentucky Public Service Commission has scheduled meetings in Louisville and Lexington for the public to weigh in on plans by utilities Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities to shut down their coal ash ponds at several power plants.

LG&E plans to close and cap the coal ash ponds at the Mill Creek and Trimble County coal plants. KU will close and cap the pond at the Ghent Power Station, as well as the ponds at three other non-operating plants. There are also a number of other projects included in the PSC application, including water handling systems, air pollution systems and the expansion of the ash landfill at the Brown Power Station. All together, the utilities will spend about $994 million on the projects.

The change is prompted by new federal regulations on how utilities can store coal ash, which is a byproduct of burning coal. Typically, power plants have stored the ash in both wet ponds and dry landfills. Some of the ash—in LG&E’s case, about 25 percent—is also recycled into materials like wall boards and cement.

If the utility is granted permission from the PSC to close the coal ash ponds, most of the ash will be stored in dry landfills.

Earlier this year, LG&E spokeswoman Natasha Collins told WFPL that closing the ponds would be the most cost effective way to comply with the new rule.

“This is the direction that we’ve been going in,” Collins said. “And ultimately, in studying our compliance options as it relates to the new rule, we determined that the lowest reasonable-cost option would be capping and closing our coal ash ponds while also continuing to beneficially reuse the byproducts.”

Coal ash ponds came under scrutiny in 2008, when a billion gallons of slurry was released from an impoundment in Kingston, Tennessee. The Environmental Protection Agency finalized the nation’s first-ever federal standards for coal ash in 2014; the rules allow existing coal ash ponds to continue operating, unless they’re causing problems to water quality.

The coal ash pond at Mill Creek is currently the subject of a lawsuit filed by environmental groups, who claim the pond’s direct discharges into the Ohio River violate LG&E’s state permit.

The company estimates that if the plan is approved, it will gradually increase customers’ bills and then drop off. LG&E estimates the average LG&E customers’ bill will increase by about 2.5 percent by 2020, and KU estimates the plan will increase their average ratepayer by about 3.4 percent by 2019.

The public information sessions and comment periods will be Monday, May 23 in Louisville (at Valley High School) and Thursday, May 26 in Lexington (at the Leestown Road Campus of the Bluegrass Community and Technical College). Both meetings begin at 5:30.