In an NPR report on Kentucky’s growing demand for renewable energy, a state official said, “We’re a coal state, we’re sentimental about our attachment to coal.”
Charles Snavely, a coal company executive for 35 years before Gov. Matt Bevin made him secretary of the Energy and Environment Cabinet, also said that the cabinet is working with companies to develop renewable energy but that he struggles with whether “the growth of renewables (comes) at the expense of coal. Is it a bigger pie, or is someone taking a slice of our pie?”
Snavely’s office did not respond to an email seeking elaboration, leaving Kentuckians to surmise that with thinking like his at the top, Kentucky should be ready to enter the 21st century about the time it ends.
Kentucky officials have long insisted that cheap — by which they mean coal-fired — power is key to retaining industries that employ Kentuckians. But now many of the world’s leading corporations — including major Kentucky employers — want renewable energy, which Kentucky is unprepared to provide.
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A report this week on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” entitled “Big Business Pushes Coal-Friendly Kentucky to Embrace Renewables,” notes that Toyota aims to be a zero-carbon company by 2050. “General Motors, Ford, Walmart, L’Oreal and others also have big goals to reduce emissions. Even the state’s beloved bourbon makers are starting to look at renewables.”
Going green has PR value, but the bottom line drives corporations, which recognize that disruptions from climate chage will be terrible for business. Also, the cost of solar and wind is dropping fast.
Renewable energy is in short supply everywhere. Kentucky, where coal and natural gas provide 94 percent of our power, is caught especially flatfooted, hobbling us in the competition for investment and jobs.
It didn’t have to be like this. In 2008, Gov. Steve Beshear released a seven-point strategy for prospering in a carbon-constrained future. Both major presidential candidates that year had pledged to combat climate change, and Beshear’s energy secretary, Len Peters, a chemical engineer and former university admnistrator who had overseen a U.S. Department of Energy lab with a $750 million budget, never pretended that climate change could be ignored. But the fossil fuel industry unleashed a well-funded backlash against the newly elected Barack Obama, and the politics of energy became radioactive.
Beshear, who had coal industry backing, dropped one of his most important strategies: a renewable portfolio standard requiring utilities to sell a specified amount of renewable energy (solar, wind, hydro), thus diversifying the energy mix and reducing emissions.
Bevin touts that he came into power free of debts to special interests. He should capitalize on that by pushing Kentucky out of its “sentimental” attachment to coal and into the energy mainstream, where the jobs and investment will be.