After plans moved forward to retire the coal-fired generators at the Big Sandy Power Plant outside Louisa, Kentucky, the question remained, what does it mean for the energy future of eastern Kentucky?
The answer came to light last week when the state Public Service Commission approved an agreement between the Sierra Club and American Electric Power (AEP) that will help expand clean energy in the region. AEP’s subsidiary, Kentucky Power, has agreed to invest in clean energy programs with a special focus on low-income community developments in Lawrence County, which sits on the eastern edge of the state next to West Virginia.
“This is an important moment in Kentucky’s history — a win for public health and the dawn of a new economic era,” said Alice Howell, chair of the Cumberland Chapter of the Sierra Club in Kentucky. “However, the impacts of this economic transition go beyond this one case. It is critical that we continue to look for ways to work with the governor to support clean energy investments in eastern Kentucky to help replace coal-related jobs.”
The agreement commits Kentucky Power to increase energy-efficiency investments over the next five years, from $3 million this year to $4 million in 2014, $5 million in 2015, and $6 million per year from 2016 to 2018. These in-state energy-efficiency investments will bring jobs directly into the Kentucky Power service areas while decreasing the total energy consumption of eastern Kentucky. The deal includes 100 megawatts of wind energy in Kentucky Power’s upcoming planning process, which acts as a “blueprint” for the company’s electricity source for the next few years.
Many in Kentucky are ready for a change in an area traditionally dominated by Big Coal interests. Earlier this year, an estimated 1,500 Kentuckians rallied at the state capitol building to celebrate I Love Mountains Day. A month later, activists won a huge victory in Trimble County when a utility’s plan to turn a cave into a coal ash pit was blocked. The cave in question was part of the Underground Railroadused by slaves seeking freedom during the 1800s.
The latest developments concerning Big Sandy Power Plant mean that Kentucky Power Company has pledged $1.1 million total toward economic development in low-income communities in Lawrence County and surrounding areas. At least one-third of that money will be used for job training, with a focus on weatherization and energy-efficiency training.
“Investing in wind power is an investment in the future of Kentucky’s economy,” said Alex DeSha, a community organizer with the Sierra Club. “When we spend our energy dollars upgrading our power to clean, renewable energy sources, what we’re really doing is investing in American workers and public health. Adding opportunities for clean sources of energy will diversify our energy mix and help stabilize electricity costs for Kentucky families.”