E.W. Brown solar array at KU’s Mercer County plant. (Photo courtesy of LG&E/KU)
When Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities (LG&E and KU) filed an application in December to make significant changes to how it generates its electricity, the utility acknowledged the “unprecedented change” taking place with how the United States makes its power.
“Although there is room for disagreement concerning the precise timing and mechanisms by which it will come about, there is no reasonable doubt that the future of electric supply, at least in the United States, will be lower carbon,” LG&E and KU’s application stated.
According to the utility’s application, aging coal-fired power plants that had served Kentucky for generations had “limited remaining economic life.” Coupled with existing and future regulations on coal-fired power plants, that likely means all coal-fired power is on its way to being closed down with only a “remote” chance of new coal-fired power plants being constructed.
Those are the main reasons the utility is trying to retire three of its coal-fired power generation units — Mill Creek Unit 2 in Jefferson County, Ghent Unit 2 in Carroll County and the E.W. Brown Unit 3 in Mercer County — by 2028 in a case before the state’s utility regulator, the Kentucky Public Service Commission (PSC).
The utility plans to replace the lost power generation from those plants with more than $2 billion in investments in new plants. It plans to build two natural gas plants at existing facilities for a combined cost of more than $1.3 billion and two solar installations at the combined cost of more than $460 million. It also plans to build a battery electricity storage facility at the cost of about $270 million.
What’s at stake
The utility would still get most of its power generation from its other coal-fired generation units even with the retirements and additions, according to an analysis by Louisville Public Media, with new and existing natural gas plants providing the second most amount of electricity. Renewables would provide a small percentage of electricity.
That proposed energy mix is a sticking point for renewable energy and environmental groups intervening in the PSC case who want to see LG&E and KU invest more heavily in renewables and turn away from proposed natural gas plants that, while generally emitting less heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions than burning coal could increase emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane.
The chief of the United Nations, referencing a report from leading climate scientists, warned earlier this year that richer countries like the United States need to cease all use of coal for power generation by 2030 and have carbon-free electricity generation by 2035 — meaning no new natural gas plants — to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.
LG&E and KU’s case is also testing a new state law passed earlier this year by the GOP-dominated legislature that creates a series of prerequisites the PSC would have to check off before it could approve the retirement of fossil fuel-fired power generation, including from coal.
The PSC’s chairman last month called the LG&E and KU case “the most consequential and complicated case” he can find in the past three to four decades.
How to make a public comment
The PSC is seeking feedback from the utility’s ratepayers and the public in the form of several in-person public meetings across the state and a virtual meeting. The dates and locations of those meetings are:
- Monday, July 31 at 5:30 p.m. EST at Frederick Douglass High School, 2000 Winchester Road, Lexington.
- Thursday, Aug. 3 at 5:30 p.m. EST at the Harlan County Judge Executive’s Office, 210 E. Central Street, #111, Harlan.
- Monday, Aug. 14 at 4:30 p.m. CST at the Hopkins County Government Center, 56 N. Main St., Madisonville.
- Wednesday, Aug. 16 at 5:30 p.m. EST at the Louisville Free Public Library’s Main Branch in Community Room 202, 301 York St., Louisville.
The virtual meeting will be held Tuesday, Aug. 15, with directions on how to access the meeting available on the commission’s website. These meetings will be ahead of a formal hearing for the case on Aug. 22.
Written comments in the case can be submitted at any time through an online portal, emailed to [email protected], or mailed to P.O. Box 615, Frankfort, KY 40602-0615. According to a release, all comments should include the commenter’s name, address and the case number: 2022-00402.
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