E. Ky. Power looks to replace energy from old coal plants

ssloan@herald-leader.comJune 8, 2012 

East Kentucky Power Cooperative announced Friday it is requesting proposals for ways to generate as much as 300 megawatts of power to potentially replace its aging coal-fired power units.

It's the latest in a series of moves by utilities throughout the state, as well as the nation, to comply with more stringent federal environmental regulations that go into effect in the coming years.

In East Kentucky Power's case, it will need to either shut down or retrofit four units at its Dale power plant in Clark County, which dates to the 1950s, as well as one unit at its Cooper plant near Somerset that went online in 1965.

"Among the alternatives are retrofitting those units or developing new generation to replace them," said cooperative spokesman Nick Comer. "The purpose of this request for proposals is to determine: Exactly what are the alternatives and the costs and benefits of those various alternatives?"

The cooperative produces power for 16 member co-ops that serve 520,000 homes, farms and businesses in 87 counties. Its leadership expects its other power-generation units to be well-positioned to meet the more strict regulations because it has spent more than $1.7 billion during the past decade to make certain upgrades, partly due to agreements with the EPA to settle lawsuits against the co-op.

East Kentucky Power is encouraging proposals for both conventional resources, such as natural gas and coal, and renewable resources such as wind and solar. For more specific information, visit Ekpc-rfp2012.com.

The cooperative intends to create a building proposal itself that will be compared to the others submitted.

Elizabeth Crowe, director of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation, complimented the company for considering the retirement of the aged coal-fired plants.

"I think that's great news for our health," she said. "It's certainly good news for our distribution co-op members who have wanted the co-op to have a more diversified portfolio.

"It's clear that those facilities would require a lot of retrofitting and very expensive retrofitting to be able to operate safely. We hope that they'll be able to get some good responses on renewables."

The decision of whether to retrofit or build new power generation has been a controversial one in the state.

Kentucky Utilities and Louisville Gas and Electric recently received approval from the state Public Service Commission to build a plant that uses natural gas, which burns cleaner, and retire aging coal-fired facilities.

Kentucky Power, which operates in Eastern Kentucky, though, had sought approval to retrofit its Big Sandy coal-fired plant. Just days before the PSC was to rule on the request, the utility withdrew it after backlash from environmental groups and others including the attorney general who were concerned it would cost substantially more than other options.

Scott Sloan: (859) 231-1447. Twitter: @HeraldLeaderBiz

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