The University of Kentucky is joining with the state and electric companies to research cutting carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants just as the federal government looks to crack down on such greenhouse gases.
Kentucky, which relies heavily on the coal industry, is an ideal breeding ground for research efforts aimed at slashing pollution from burning that fuel, said Len Peters, secretary of the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.
Kentucky is the third-largest coal-producing state in the country and generates more than 90 percent of its electricity by burning coal, allowing power rates to stay below national averages, according to the Energy Information Administration.
The electric power industry in Kentucky generated more than 90 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2005, more than electricity producers in all but six other states, according to Environmental Protection Agency data.
"Kentucky has a tremendously large stake in finding solutions," Peters said.
The state and Kentucky power producers will kick in $20 million for the research over the next decade. In addition, officials say they hope their efforts will leverage at least $4 million more in U.S. Department of Energy research grants.
"I think that's a conservative amount," Peters said.
Gov. Steve Beshear and UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. will make a formal announcement Monday about the consortium, which will base its work at UK's Center for Applied Energy Research.
This comes less than a week after the Environmental Protection Agency declared carbon dioxide a pollutant, increasing the likelihood of tighter restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions.
"Most experts agree that carbon limitations will be imposed on fossil fuel-burning power plants in the future," said Rodney Andrews, the UK energy center's director. Five power industry groups and companies each will kick in $200,000 a year for the research. They include E.ON U.S. — the parent company of Kentucky Utilities and Louisville Gas & Electric — Duke Energy, Kentucky Power Co., East Kentucky Power Cooperative and the Electric Power Research Institute.
The state will match the money with as much as $1 million a year, which the legislature put into the Kentucky Department of Energy Development and Independence budget in 2008.
By spreading the cost and the risk of such ambitious research, the consortium aims to develop cleaner and cheaper ways to use coal or other fuel sources, including biomass, to generate electricity.
The Center for Applied Energy Research has worked with E.ON since 2006 on related research, including capturing carbon dioxide emissions after coal is burned.
"Our state will have to make a concerted effort to control emissions of carbon dioxide, while recognizing that coal is a vital part of our energy mix," Beshear said in a statement. "This partnership between our utilities and CAER provides a way to efficiently mobilize our limited resources."
The partnership has been in the works for more than a year as officials anticipated that the EPA would eventually tighten restrictions on greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, Peters said. The state's energy plan, which Peters' agency unveiled last fall, calls for slashing Kentucky's total carbon dioxide emissions 40 percent by 2025.
To meet that goal, the state must use a variety of strategies, Peters said.
"Being an engineer, I hate to have one technology I'm looking at," said Peters, a nationally known chemical engineer. "If you're only putting the dollars into one that may not work out, you're greatly reducing your possible success."