Gov. Steve Beshear unveiled what he called Kentucky's first-ever comprehensive energy plan Tuesday, setting a goal of significantly reducing greenhouse gases while increasing jobs over the next couple of decades.
Beshear said his plan will protect the environment while positioning Kentucky as an energy leader. By 2025, he said, greenhouse gas emissions could be 20 percent lower than they were in 1990 and energy consumption could be 18 percent lower than currently projected.
Beshear stopped short of calling for removal of the state's ban on nuclear power plants, but factored nuclear energy into some of the plan's long-range projections. He pointed out that there are more than 100 nuclear plants in the United States, and most states surrounding Kentucky have at least one.
"I don't think there's any question that it's going to be a part of this country's energy future," the governor said. "The question is whether it's going to be part of Kentucky's future."
He said he would talk to lawmakers and the public about whether a ban on nuclear facilities in Kentucky should be lifted. Under state law, the Public Service Commission can't consider a nuclear plant unless a permanent disposal site is in place to accept spent radioactive fuel.
The governor sees a lot of coal in Kentucky's future, but there also is solar and wind energy, conservation, and perhaps a scheme using the carbon that usually spews into the air when coal is burned to speed the growth of algae, which would in turn produce a diesel-like fuel.
The 150-page plan, Intelligent Energy Choices for Kentucky's Future, lays out seven strategies that range from increasing energy efficiency to producing liquid fuels from coal.
Many of the strategies are based on highly speculative research. For example, Beshear calls for capturing and storing, perhaps deep underground, the carbon emissions of half the coal burned in 2025.
As many as 40,000 jobs could be created in fields related to energy production and conservation, Beshear predicted.
At least some of the plan's success depends on what the federal government does in coming years. Many of its methods and goals are parallel to ideas expounded by President-elect Barack Obama, Beshear said.
Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who preceded Beshear in office, also had produced what he called a comprehensive energy plan. Asked about that Thursday, Beshear characterized his predecessor's plan as "more piecemeal."
"I don't recall any comprehensive prior plan that sought to encompass the whole energy picture," he said.
Beshear said his administration drew up the policy without consulting with coal companies or environmental groups. It now is meeting with those groups, as well as legislators and university experts, to gain support for the plan.
Some parts of the plan will be submitted to the General Assembly in January as proposed legislation, he said.
The plan drew a range of reactions.
House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, a coal company employee who has been the legislature's premier energy advocate, said he was not upset that the governor did not seek legislative input in developing the plan.
He said Energy Secretary Len Peters "relayed to me that they did not want any outside influences in the development of the plan and just wanted to give it their best shot and then open it up to everyone," said Adkins, D-Sandy Hook.
State Sen. Robert Stivers, who has worked on previous energy legislation, said he thought it was "odd to unveil a plan and then ask for input." Stivers, R-Manchester, said he was made aware of the plan in an e-mail news release and had not had time to study it.
Doug Doerrfeld,, an executive committee member for the environmental group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, said Beshear's plan "is putting too many eggs in the coal basket."
Doerrfeld — and the Cumberland chapter of the Sierra Club — also turned thumbs down on the idea of nuclear power plants.
"The best nuclear reactor is 93 million miles away, and it's called the sun," Doerrfeld said.
Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, said he welcomed diverse sources of energy, including nuclear. But, he added, the large coal-fired plants now providing most of Kentucky's electricity will be around for a long while.
"We've always said that coal is the bridge to the future. The debate is how soon that future is going to come," he said.
At the University of Kentucky's Center for Applied Energy Research, director Rodney Andrews said Beshear had presented "a comprehensive energy plan that addresses key issues."
He said the state's ban on nuclear plants should be lifted. "It can be done safely, as we have seen in other states," he said.
Others questioned the soundness of the plan because it emphasizes turning coal into liquid gas.
Tom FitzGerald, director if the Kentucky Resources Council, said that process won't work without an effective way of dealing with carbon emissions. He also called for a "significant reduction from current levels of the unnecessary damage inflicted on coalfield communities from radical mining methods."
Beshear noted that he is releasing his plan, which would prove costly, as the state faces severe budget shortfalls. But, he said, how the state and the nation address energy issues is central to any economic recovery.
Beshear and Peters said their plan is based on existing technology. Still, much of that technology has never been used on a large scale in the United States.
The plan itself will change, the governor said. "This is a living document."