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Power co-op must justify new coal plant

East Kentucky Power Cooperative Inc. will have to explain in more detail why it's seeking to build a $767 million coal-fired power plant in Clark County, the Kentucky Public Service Commission ordered Tuesday.

The PSC was responding to an Oct. 29 complaint filed by the Sierra Club, Kentucky Environmental Foundation, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and several individuals, including author Wendell Berry.

The commission, which regulates utility companies, ordered East Kentucky Power to provide responses in 10 days to seven points raised in the environmental groups' complaint.

Among them:

■ Why East Kentucky Power needs a new facility if it recently reduced its estimated power needs for 2020 by 12 percent.

■ Whether investment in a coal plant is appropriate as the price of coal goes up and renewable energy sources are more common.

■ Whether East Kentucky Power would be better off trying to reduce customers' power demands than building a new plant.

■ And why the cost of the facility, known as the Smith 1 plant, has increased from $553 million to its current estimate of $767 million. In fact, the company this month filed an application with the PSC seeking approval for using up to $900 million of private investor-backed debt for the Smith 1 plant.

East Kentucky Power spokesman Nick Comer said the company couldn't comment until it files its response.

Comer said officials still expect the facility to cost about $767 million and applied for the $900 million only as "an upper limit."

Robert Ukeiley, a Berea-based lawyer for the environmental groups, said he was "encouraged" by the commission's order.

"The mainstream acceptance of renewable energy and energy efficiency can cause a revelation about whether this project is actually in the best interest of Kentucky," he said.