Thanks to a powerful and growing New Power grassroots movement, a broad alliance of Kentucky activists sent an electrifying message across the nation today: A just transition to a clean energy future, even in the heartland of coal country Kentucky, is possible.
Recognizing the spiraling costs of coal-fired plant construction and more practical energy efficiency and renewable energy options, the East Kentucky Power Cooperative (EKPC) has agreed to halt its once fervent plans to construct two coal-burning power plants in Clark County.
The announcement comes nearly one year after American Municipal Power abandoned its plans to build a coal-fired power plant along the Ohio River in Meigs County, and shifted the battle between coal-fired plants and New Power sources to Kentucky.
Led by EKPC members, the Sierra Club, Kentucky Environmental Foundation, and Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, along with individual co-op members Wendell Berry, Father John Rausch, and Dr. John A. Patterson, the announcement comes as an extraordinary shift in the national debate over coal-fired energy.
Doug Doerrfeld, a member of Grayson Rural Electric and past chairperson of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, said the agreement marked a significant turning point for Kentucky. “This is very good news for all of Kentucky’s distribution co-ops and their members. EKPC can now avoid the huge cost of building the plant and turn its attention to aggressively pursuing energy efficiency and renewable energy options. I believe those strategies hold the greatest promise for keeping rates as low as possible in the long run for Grayson Rural Electric members, especially our many low-income ratepayers.”
“This agreement demonstrates what can happen when people work together,” said Billy Edwards, a Clark Energy customer and Sierra Club member. “It creates an opportunity for our cooperative to become a leader in developing affordable, accessible clean energy and energy efficiency programs that can create jobs across the region while meeting the needs of their customers.”
“I’m awfully glad to be party to a settlement that is amicable and made in good faith,” said Wendell Berry, a farmer, renowned author, and Shelby Energy co-op member. “I do, on the basis of long experience, value the idea of a cooperative — which is to say an established cooperation between suppliers and users of energy or of any other vital supply. I’m also glad that the settlement agreement establishes a way forward through the establishment of a collaborative which will allow for informal conversations without the rigidity and anxiety of legal process.”
The cooperative also committed $125,000 toward a collaborative effort in which plaintiff groups, EKPC and its member co-ops, and other parties will work together to evaluate and recommend new energy efficiency programs and renewable energy options.
During the campaign to stop the proposed Smith #1 coal-fired plant, the New Power movement hailed a breakthrough study [PDF] completed last summer by The Och Center for Metropolitan Studies, which 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.
For more information, see the Kentuckians For The Commonwealth’s blog.