Jobs could come by switching from coal, study says

Weaning Kentucky from its overwhelming dependence on coal-generated electricity offers economic opportunities and job growth, according to a new report from the Berea-based Mountain Association for Community Economic Development.

The 21-page report, Building Clean Energy Careers in Kentucky, says the state can create middle-skill jobs — those that require more than a high school degree but less than a college diploma — in fields such as making homes and factories more energy-efficient, manufacturing components for energy-efficiency systems and creating renewable energy.

Diversifying the state's energy sources also would help offset what is expected to be increased costs associated with mining and burning coal, according to the report, which was written by Kristin Tracz and Jason Bailey.

"Although the state has historically relied on low-cost, coal-fired electricity to keep consumer costs low and attract industry, the average price of that electricity is up 43 percent in Kentucky in just over the last five years," the report said.

It cites a study by the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance that found, as others have, that Kentuckians consume "more energy per dollar of economic opportunity than most other states."

The SEEA study also found that with aggressive energy-efficiency policies, the state could reduce energy consumption so that it would be below present levels in 2030. That would be equal to avoiding the need for six new 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants.

The study ends with a list of recommendations for changes in state policy to increase job opportunities in a clean-energy economy.

They include policies to require that a portion of the state's energy come from renewable sources and financing to spur investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

The report notes, however, that bills to set renewable-energy targets were put forth this year by a coalition of energy and economic groups and by House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, and neither was acted upon by the General Assembly.

"As a state, we're scared about the changes that are going on in the energy environment," said Bailey, one of the study's authors. "We're really focused on our vulnerability because of dependence on coal.

"We argue that it's risky for us to simply oppose. We have to mitigate our risks and see the opportunities in the chances that are happening before we miss out on them."