State leaders ignore energy efficiency

Good bill mired in committee

February 27, 2011 

Living in a coal state is no guarantee against soaring electricity costs, as many Kentuckians struggling to pay heating bills have learned this bitter winter.

In response, we're seeing mostly nonsense from Frankfort: The Senate has fingered the Public Service Commission and says elected commissioners would keep us warmer for less.

Lawmakers in both chambers have talked of casting off the oppressive yoke of clean water and air laws. And for the fourth straight year, the legislature is doing nothing to assure a stable, affordable, cleaner power supply for the future.

Kentucky has fallen behind 36 states and the District of Columbia, which have set deadlines or goals for diversifying their power bases by expanding renewable energy and improving efficiency.

Ohio set a deadline of 2025 for deriving 25 percent of its retail electricity from renewable sources, non-renewable alternative sources or efficiency gains. As a result, Buckeyes are already reaping new jobs in manufacturing solar technology — 1,500 of them, according to the Ohio Department of Development.

Reaping the same kinds of security and benefits for Kentucky was a centerpiece of Gov. Steve Beshear's "7-Point Strategy for Energy Independence," unveiled with some ado in late 2008.

Beshear's plan called for enacting what's known as renewable energy and efficiency portfolio standards for utilities. But more recently, the governor seems to have lost interest in enlightened energy policy in favor of pandering to the coal industry and deriding the Environmental Protection Agency.

Awaiting action in this session is a bill sponsored by three Louisville Democrats that would put Kentucky on the renewable energy map.

If lawmakers wanted to dispel the doofus image they're cultivating for themselves this session, they would see to it that House Bill 239, sponsored by Reps. Mary Lou Marzian, Joni Jenkins and Jim Wayne, fares better than similar measures have in recent sessions. But the bill has been languishing since Feb. 2 in the Tourism, Development and Energy Committee.

HB 239 requires that 12.5 percent of retail electricity in Kentucky come from renewable sources such as solar, wind and biomass by 2021. It also requires utilities to achieve electricity savings from conservation and efficiency of 10.25 percent by 2021.

Utilities would have to be granted rate adjustments to pay for the cost of starting demand management and other efficiency programs. The bill also authorizes incentives, such as on-bill financing, to help consumers make energy improvements in their homes or businesses. In the end, everyone would save by avoiding the much higher costs of building new power plants.

Electricity is still very cheap here, compared with most of the rest of the country. That's one reason we waste so much of it.

Another factor in our high consumption is substandard housing, especially in depressed Eastern Kentucky, where a higher proportion of homes are heated with electricity.

Kentucky offers tons of low-hanging fruit in terms of capturing energy through efficiency — if only we had elected leaders smart enough to pluck it.

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