PIKEVILLE — Touting Pike County as a leader in not only coal but greener energy technology, businessmen and local officials made presentations to the General Assembly's joint committee on energy Wednesday.
The county seeks state money to develop an ethanol plant on its landfill site, county leaders have attended national meetings about wind power, and officials pushed to ensure the courthouse being built in Pikeville will be the state's first to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards, Judge-Executive Wayne T. Rutherford said.
Legislators should help the region diversify its energy resources and protect the atmosphere from carbon spewed by coal, Rutherford said — a departure from earlier speeches by officials who urged protectionism of surface mines and low electricity prices.
The county's energy plan is one reason it was honored recently by the National Association of Counties, Rutherford said.
"Kentucky needs to know and the nation needs to know what Pike County can contribute to the energy situation in this country," he said.
Coal, of which Pike County is one of the state's leading producers, is part of the plan.
Rutherford called coal-to-liquids fuel for cars "the answer to transportation" in the country. He outlined plans for a coal gasification plant north of Pikeville and said he rejected offers from companies that couldn't ensure carbon sequestration to limit environmental impact.
Natural gas also is being developed. EQT, Appalachia's largest natural gas producer, recently located its regional headquarters in Pike County. Environmentalists see natural gas as a bridge fuel to lead away from coal-fired power plants.
Some of Pike's efforts have faced setbacks.
The landfill biofuel plant did not get funding sought in Congress, and private funding dried up. Agresti Biofuels, an Indiana company, scaled back its plans and is seeking $8 million in state money to supplement its investment of $5 million to build a demonstration plant. Only then can private funding of $200 million be secured to build the full-scale plant, said Agresti program director Zbigniew "Zig" Resiak. Collecting carbon credits in a cap-and-trade situation, bringing in "tipping" fees for dumping at the landfill, as well as selling any ethanol or butanol produced are the plant's economic benefits, Resiak said.
"Pike County certainly should be commended," said Rodney Andrews, director of the University of Kentucky's Center for Applied Energy Research. "One of the problems we have in energy development is poor planning."
Andrews and Rutherford attended a conference in Virginia to learn about the viability of wind energy in Appalachia. Studies have shown that the only area of Kentucky with enough wind to make windmills feasible is southeast Kentucky. Rutherford touted this potential Tuesday, along with the hydroelectric potential of Fishtrap Dam and the Big Sandy River, though experts say biomass energy made from wood and other crops is a better investment in Eastern Kentucky.
Rutherford has pushed to have county buildings retrofitted with wind and solar power-generating panels, he said, but he hasn't found the money for it.
Nevertheless, the county is "certainly being very aggressive in trying to make sure these projects are located in the county," Andrews said.