The clean energy battle frontline now moves to Kentucky--and that state's choice to either pursue the outdated plans for the costly and deadly Smith #1 coal-fired plant, or transition to a combination of energy efficiency and clean energy options that would generate more sustainable jobs and revenue for the Bluegrass residents.
Earlier this year, the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign announced that plans for 100 proposed coal-fired plants had been abandoned. The question now is whether Kentucky is going to join the rest of the nation in this transition and growing opportunities for a clean energy economy.
But first, the great news: Last night in Cleveland, Ohio, clean energy advocates celebrated the recent announcement by the American Municipal Power in Ohio to abandon its plans to build a coal-fired power plant along the Ohio River in Meigs County--home of one of the highest concentrations of coal-fired plants and cancer rates in the nation.
Citing the 37 percent increase in building costs, AMP not only saved the Ohio Appalachia region of more mercury and other toxic pollution--but kept 7.5 million tons of annual CO2 emissions from releasing into our world.
Good morning, Copenhagen!
But this victory didn't come easy: Citizens and environmental groups, including Meigs Citizen Action Now, the Energy Justice Network, Ohio Student Environmental Coalition, Ohio Citizen Action, Sierra Student Coalition, the Sierra Club, NRDC, and the Ohio Environmental Council have been fighting to move Ohio beyond coal for years--starting with Meigs County.
No one understands this better than Elisa Young, a Meigs County farmer and community organizer, and a hero in the southern Ohio clean energy movement:
"Getting the AMP coal plant dropped from the Meigs agenda is half the battle. To win the war, it's critical we support AMP in their promise to bring good, green energy jobs to Meigs County," says Elisa. "Everyone here is concerned about our high cancer rates, but there is a huge disconnect between what we are being exposed to and why people are sick. It's absolutely attributable to coal. Our future depends on moving from coal to energy production that doesn't poison us."
Citizens groups like the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC), the Kentucky Environmental Council and the Sierra Club in Kentucky are making these same compelling arguments on the other side of the Ohio River.
In October, beloved Kentucky author Wendell Berry joined KFTC, the Sierra Club, the Kentucky Environmental Foundation, Glenmary priest Rev. John Rausch, and Dr. John Patterson in petitioning the Kentucky Public Service Commission to revoke the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity granted to the East Kentucky Power Cooperative for the Smith # 1 coal-fired plant in Clark County. The Petition cites regulatory and procedural violations, as well as the fact that the proposed coal-fired plant is no longer cost-effective or even needed:
...the Certificate is no longer valid because the Commission granted it with the understanding that EKPC would finance the Smith CFB with funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utility Services ("USDA")...
...events have unfolded since the Commission's granting of the Certificate and since the Commission's last review of the Certificate that make it very clear that the Smith CFB will not serve the public convenience, is not necessary and is unjust, unreasonable, unsafe, improper, inadequate or insufficient. To begin with, EKPC does not need the Smith CFB because its total energy requirement, that is the number of kilowatt-hours it needs per year, has decreased dramatically and will continue to be significantly lower than EKPC's forecasts. Furthermore, changes in the price of coal-fired generation versus other sources of generation, including natural gas, renewable and efficient measurers make it clear that the Smith CFB is the wrong choice from the point of view of keeping EKPC's rates low.
The real issue, of course, is whether the East Kentucky Power Cooperative and all Kentuckians will move beyond dirty and costly coal-fired energy, or the join the exploding clean energy and sustainable green jobs economy. In a comparison of the proposed Smith # 1 coal-fired plant and a combination of clean energy options, a breakthrough study completed this summer by The Och Center for Metropolitan Studies concluded:
As an alternative to building the proposed Smith #1 plant, an investment in a combination of energy efficiency, weatherization, hydropower and wind power initiatives in the East Kentucky Power Cooperative (EKPC) region would generate more than 8,750 new jobs for Kentucky residents, witha total impact of more than $1.7 billion on the region's economy over the next three years. This alternative approach would meet the energy needs of EKPC customers at a lower cost than the proposed coal plant.
Unlike projected economic activity that would result from construction of a new coal‐burning
power plant, investing in renewable energy, efficiency and weatherization would result in jobs
and benefits across the region rather than in a smaller geographic area around the site of the
proposed coal burning power plant.
Over a three year period of construction and implementation, energy efficiency and
weatherization initiatives would create nearly $1.2 billion in economic activity and more than
5,400 jobs. The development of small scale hydropower generation at 20 sites in the region
would create more than $500 million in economic activity and more than 3,300 jobs.
As Father Rausch wrote in an oped this past Sunday in the Herald-Leader:
Given this social vision intended to empower members and enhance the local community, how can we justify using fuel from sources like coal waste piles, tires and possibly mountaintop removal coal mining? Teaching members ways of conserving energy and investing in renewable energy sources better fulfills our co-op's social vision.
Finally, a renewed economy depends on high moral and ethical standards. Our current economic crisis came from quick profits without regard to community. The cardinal virtue of prudence dictates that when we can meet our electric needs through greater efficiency or renewable and sustainable methods, we choose them.
East Kentucky Power Cooperative has an opportunity to lead into a new era. We don't need to walk in the dark, though we can turn off unnecessary lights.
Coal miners will still have jobs, though their sons and daughters will find different employment. Green technology will create employment, but we'll need the proper investment.
The burdensome cost of coal in Kentucky is no longer a secret: According to a recent Mountain Association of Community Economic Development study, the coal industry in Kentucky provides $528 million in state revenue, but costs $643 million in state expenditures.
As Co-op member Susan Dansereau concludes: "EKPC's plan to build a new coal fired power plant is both expensive and bad, as it ignores the reality that carbon dioxide will soon be regulated and taxed in some way. The already burdened people of south eastern Kentucky should not be asked to pay for taking what is obviously the wrong fork in the road to our energy future.
For more information, check out the Stop Smith website.