Senate approves bill to preserve coal-fired power generation in Kentucky

Four Republicans from Northern Kentucky, Louisville split from party, vote ‘no’

By: - March 2, 2023 8:28 pm

Coal was loaded in Cumberland in Harlan County in 2019. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

FRANKFORT —The Senate on Thursday approved a bill to keep coal-fired power plants operating in Kentucky, as supporters of the measure railed against federal overreach and the few opponents warned the bill could result in costly state overregulation of utilities.

Senate Bill 4 is opposed by the state’s investor-owned utilities, who say it would prevent them from retiring uneconomical fossil fuel-fired generators and burden consumers with unnecessary costs. 

Republican Sen. Shelley Funke Frommeyer of Alexandria also opposed the bill, saying “stakeholders” haven’t been at the table to discuss “a complex issue” and that the discussion should occur during the interim between sessions.

“I have a fear we may be taking this too far. …. We’d be picking a winner,” she said, adding that lawmakers should be “fuel-agnostic.” 

Three other Republicans from Northern Kentucky and Louisville joined her in voting against SB 4, along with four Democrats, including Sen. David Yates of Louisville, who warned that it would raise consumers’ power bills.

The bill was approved 25-8.

The sponsor, Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, countered that the bill would encourage utilities to enter into longer contracts to buy coal, stabilizing prices and even lowering costs.

Through a floor amendment, Mills deleted a controversial provision that utilities said established an impossible test for a utility to win Public Service Commission approval for retiring coal-fired generation.

Mills’ amendment deleted requirements of evidence that fossil fuel-fired plant retirements would not affect the reliability of the transmission systems run by regional transmission organizations and independent system operators. 

Utility executives have previously said such organizations are responsible for operating larger, regional transmission grids and don’t have the authority or ability to provide information regarding electricity reliability on a smaller scale. 

The bill that won Senate approval sets out several tests for replacing retired electric generation, including maintaining or improving reliability and resilience of the grid, not binding ratepayers with avoidable costs, and that the retirement decision not be the result of any financial incentives or benefits offered by the federal government. The PSC would be responsible for enforcing the mandates.

Mills said the bill would help stave off the “coming capacity shortage” and avoid blackouts.

In supporting the bill, Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, railed against “limousine liberals” in “corporate jets” who are devastating Eastern Kentucky and other rural areas by imposing a green agenda that is destroying jobs, including coal mining, “because someone in Washington or Wall Street wants to feel good about themselves.” 

Sen. Johnnie L. Turner, R-Harlan, criticized the federal government for providing financial incentives to move away from coal to renewable energy.

Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, Republican Kelly Craft’s running mate in the gubernatorial primary, blamed Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear for not challenging the Biden administration’s energy policies and said Kentucky should not give up what has been its traditional advantage of cheap power. 

Wise said “D.C. bureaucrats know nothing about what Kentucky needs.” 

Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, said electrical costs are bound to rise because of former President Barack Obama’s energy and environmental policies. 

“The war on coal is basically over and they won,” West said. 

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Jamie Lucke
Jamie Lucke

Jamie Lucke has more than 40 years of experience as a journalist. Her editorials for the Lexington Herald-Leader won Walker Stone, Sigma Delta Chi and Green Eyeshade awards. She is a graduate of the University of Kentucky.