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Energy one of the three ‘E’s’ of Kentucky campaigns

While Kentucky’s economy and education policy and practices have dominated political headlines during this election year, no gubernatorial campaign in Kentucky would be complete without considering candidates’ views on energy, particularly as they relate to coal.

After rolling blackouts during last winter’s storms, the Kentucky General Assembly passed legislation earlier this year requiring utility companies to get the Public Service Commission’s (PSC) approval before retiring coal-fired power plants.

Senate Bill 4 was sponsored by Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, running mate of Daniel Cameron, the state’s attorney general and Republican candidate for governor. The legislation requires utilities to show that such closures, among other things, won’t negatively affect the reliability and resiliency of the electric transmission grid or force ratepayers to cover the “incremental costs” of retirement.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who’s running for reelection, allowed the bill to become law – without either his signature or stated support.

Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities, both owned by PPL Corporation, collectively make up the state’s largest utility with more than a million ratepayers, vigorously opposed SB 4 and is seeking closure from the PSC of coal-fired units in Jefferson, Carroll and Mercer counties. The utility wants to replace them with natural gas, solar and a battery energy storage system.

Cameron’s office opposes the request and staunchly defended the bill in court, writing in a brief submitted to the PSC that while renewable energy sources like wind and solar may be all the rage currently, they are “causing reliability concerns in places where dispatchable energy is being lost and replaced with solar and wind.”

It urged the commission to “make its decision not on what is new and popular but on what will work. Now is not the time for speculation or for placing the cost of massive new renewable projects onto the back of ratepayers. The prudent thing is to continue utilizing Kentucky’s existing coal plants.”

By the time you read this, commissioners may have made their decision about LG&E and KU Energy’s request. But they will not have settled the debate over what role fossil fuels – especially coal – will play in the future of our country and commonwealth.

Beshear gives the obligatory nod to coal required of any politician seeking statewide office in a state among the nation’s top producers of the black rock. But he’s also chosen not to wade so far into the issue as to put him at odds with the more radical elements of his party, whose dreams of an energy utopia are pushing aside ratepayers’ and industry leaders’ concerns regarding an affordable, available supply.

The governor’s been silent while intervening parties in the PSC case like the leftist Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and Mountain Association have attacked the source of energy that’s provided our commonwealth’s families with some of the nations’ lowest energy costs and raised and supported families since the first commercial coal mine opened in Muhlenberg County in 1820.

These radical intervening parties in the PSC case even criticized LG&E and KU Energy for proposing to replace their coal-powered generating stations with natural gas operations rather than going completely with wind and solar.

But the technical reality is that renewables, though they can supplement our fossil fuels, aren’t going to replace them at any point in the near future.

Building an energy policy solely around renewables rather than viewing them as supplementary sources would harm Kentucky more than most states.

In a letter to President Biden concerning the reliability of our nation’s electric grid a couple of years ago, East Kentucky Power Cooperative CEO Anthony Campbell painted “the emerging picture” as being one of “an electric grid that is steadily becoming less fuel secure.”

Our governor wiggles out of uncomfortable conversations about energy by awkwardly claiming support for an “all the above” energy policy, thus giving equal credence to wind and solar as he does fossil fuels, which have powered Kentucky for the past two centuries.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), coal in 2022 generated 68% of Kentucky’s in-state electricity, a larger share than all but two other states.

Coal has also given us some of the nations’ lowest electric rates, a primary reason for the record increases in manufacturing operations and growth that Beshear praises on the campaign trail.

Renewables simply aren’t able to make such a majority contribution.

The EIA says less than 1% of Kentucky’s current energy needs are met by wind and solar. Even LG&E and KU Energy admit that their proposed new solar facilities’ winter-time capacity will be no more than about 16%, compared to more than 60% filled by coal with natural gas filling nearly 25% of their volume.

Opponents of fossil fuels, who live to send us and our economy back to horse-and-buggy days – point with glee to testimony in August from LG&E and KU’s CEO Lonnie Bellar indicating that last year’s extreme temperatures and mechanical failures caused even some coal-fired facilities to freeze up or go offline during last year’s storms.

“See! See!” opponents say, “coal isn’t as reliable as conservatives claim.”

But that response doesn’t pass the logic test. How, for example, would reducing our coal-generating capacity even further and replacing it with even-less-reliable sources contribute to preventing future blackouts?

Cameron acknowledges the ongoing energy transition. The issue, though, as he states in his brief, is: “How do we achieve the best outcome from this transition? One thing is for certain: relying solely on hope and ignoring the laws of physics and engineering will only ensure failure.”

Beshear would do well to remember this as he seeks another term governing a state which sits on nearly 90 billion tons of coal even after more than 200 years of mining.

Don’t we need to hear more about how he, if reelected, would use such a God-given plentiful energy source to advance future economic growth and prosperity in our state?

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free market think tank. Reach him at and @bipps on Twitter.

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