Alternative energy supporters push agenda to lawmakers

bestep@herald-leader.comMarch 22, 2012 

FRANKFORT — Supporters of renewable energy are continuing the effort to move Kentucky away from its near-exclusive use of coal to generate electricity.

Wider use of energy sources such as solar and wind power, and efforts to promote energy efficiency could help hold down electricity rates and create jobs, according to information supporters gave a House committee Thursday.

However, the proposal they support, House Bill 167, won't get a vote in the legislature this year, just as a similar measure didn't last year.

Coal has been king a long time in Kentucky, and the state gets more than 90 percent of its electricity from burning coal.

It will take time to make the case for energy sources that are less familiar, and less influential, some advocates said after the meeting.

"I think that there's just a huge learning curve right now," said Lauren McGrath, who works with the Kentucky Sustainable Energy Alliance.

Thursday's meeting of the House Tourism Development and Energy Committee was a chance to continue pushing the issue, advocates said.

Consultant Richard Hornby told the committee a study he helped conduct projected the average residential electric bill will be 47 percent higher in 2022 than in 2010 if the state continues with business as usual.

With rules requiring utilities to get some of the electricity they supply from renewable sources — and from reducing electricity demand through efficiency programs — the average residential bill would be 33 percent higher in 2022, Hornby estimated.

Hornby, of Synapse Energy Economics Inc. in Boston, studied the issue for the Kentucky Sustainable Energy Alliance and the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development.

HB 167, sponsored by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, would require retail electricity providers to get 12.5 percent of the power they supplied from renewable sources by 2022, and to accomplish energy savings of 10.25 percent through efficiency programs such as weatherizing homes.

The bill would create a net job gain in Kentucky by promoting development of the renewable-energy industry, supporters said.

But David Freibert, an official with LG&E — Kentucky Utilities, told the committee electricity rates went up faster in coal-dependant states with a mandate for utilities to use renewable energy than in non-mandate states.

Hornby said later it was difficult to compare the factors that drive up electricity rates state to state.

Rep. Leslie Combs, a Pikeville Democrat who chairs the committee, said there was no vote on HB 167 because it wouldn't have passed.

However, Combs said, "we're making headway" on people realizing there are energy alternatives to consider. Backers said they'll push the measure again next year.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1.

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