Lane Boldman: Ky. wasting money on 'clean coal'; Focus on renewables, energy efficency

August 11, 2014 

  • At issue: July 22 Herald-Leader article, "UK emissions pilot project could keep Ky. coal relevant; Idea is to cut cost of carbon capture"

  • About the author: Lane Boldman is energy advocacy coordinator for the Kentucky Environmental Foundation.

In June, the Environmental Protection Agency released the Clean Power Plan, which for the first time proposes rules to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants, the single-largest source of carbon pollution in the United States.

These proposed rules are important for Kentuckians in a number of ways, particularly with regard to our health. Carbon pollution is a significant contributor to both asthma and cardiovascular disease. Kentucky has some of the highest asthma rates in the nation, and has significantly elevated rates of cardiovascular diseases compared to other states.

Recently, I and dozens of fellow Kentuckians traveled to Atlanta to attend one of four public hearings held across the country on the EPA's plan. Thousands of citizens spoke out at these hearings, demanding action on curbing carbon that contributes to climate change.

These carbon protections will help us clean up and modernize the way we power our country — a move that will make for healthier kids, families and workers, while incentivizing much-needed clean-energy jobs.

A 2012 study by the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development found that recommended investments in renewables and energy efficiency in Kentucky could result in 28,000 clean-energy-related jobs over 10 years.

Assistant Secretary for Climate Policy John Lyons recently stated that Kentucky's fleet of coal-fired power plants should meet the new standard by 2020. That's because 11 coal boilers are already scheduled to shut down. Kentucky can meet the standards simply by continuing the present course, with little incentive for additional innovation

But rather than embrace this clean-energy future, Kentucky continues to reach backward to far dirtier options. Recently, the Herald-Leader reported on a carbon-capture demonstration project at the E.W. Brown Power Plant in Harrodsburg, hyped as a potential "game changer" for coal. This demonstration project is estimated to cost taxpayers nearly $20 million. While research of this kind is always important to explore, Kentucky really needs to re-evaluate its priorities.

In reference to the project, Gov. Steve Beshear stated: "The health of Kentucky's entire manufacturing economy is highly dependent on our ability to continue to generate affordable, readily available energy."

Well, if that is so, then why are we wasting taxpayer dollars on expensive, experimental projects rather than simple, inexpensive and easily achievable initiatives such as energy efficiency?

And while Beshear has been riding high on his support for health-care initiatives, he joined 11 other states this past week to sue the EPA over its authority to regulate air pollution.

The most affordable energy is the energy not wasted. Yet currently Kentucky is one of the few states with no significant state-led initiatives to address how efficiently we use our power.

Efficiency measures would extend the life of Kentucky's present fleet of power plants and is available to implement right now. Since our per-capita energy consumption in Kentucky is among the highest in the nation, energy efficiency is one of our best avenues for real progress.

It is ironic that the Brown plant was chosen as a demonstration for this so-called "clean coal" technology when this plant has been guilty of massive (and illegal) coal-waste contamination of nearby Herrington Lake, as reported by the Herald-Leader on May 28. Tests of the water there show arsenic at more than 14 times the amount determined safe for drinking water.

There's nothing wrong with exploring options for capturing carbon from coal-fired power plants, but let's leave that to the coal companies to fund, since they made the mess in the first place. We need to get our priorities straight and realize the future for energy is one that must be diversified.

Expanding our clean-energy and efficiency options will not only improve our energy security and reliability, but will also improve the health of all Kentuckians.

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