Monday, October 6, 2008

Securing a Greener Future for Kentucky


By Doug Doerrfeld

Sweden recently set on a path to become the world’s first “oil-free economy” within 15 years by replacing all fossil fuels with renewables. As a result, entrepreneurs rushed to develop new ways of generating energy from the wind, sun and tides, from wood chips, agricultural waste, and garbage. Economic growth rates climbed. We learned that when nations "decarbonizes," their economies reap immediate rewards.

In recent weeks we’ve heard significant announcements in solar breakthroughs, from gigantic generating plants to new ways to store solar energy. We are on the threshold of the day when nearly every Kentucky home and business could be generating electricity and hot water.

With technology changing so fast, with renewable energy poised to deliver significant levels of power on a cost-competitive basis, Gov. Steve Beshear was right to ask the Energy Cabinet to develop a new comprehensive energy plan. Though Kentucky’s current plan is just a few years old, it relies heavily on coal and does more to reinforce old power (both energy production and the politically entrenched) than to transform our economy.

A good plan will not only cleanly generate the energy needed to meet the needs of Kentuckians, it will also improve our quality of life. "With good policies and strong investments that prepare people who most need work for the work that most needs to be done, green jobs can fight poverty and global warming pollution at the same time," a University of Massachusetts report pointed out.

Kentuckians For The Commonwealth offers three standards by which we will judge a new energy plan.

First, it must do no more harm and work to stop the harm now being done. The same week Gov. Beshear asked for a new energy plan the city of Louisville issued several air quality alerts. These air-borne toxins hurt people and put some in the hospital. Rural areas are also hardly immune to these dangers. Mammoth Cave is the fifth most polluted national park, largely because of coal power plants in western Kentucky.

On the other end of the coal cycle, more mining with the continued lack of effective enforcement of mining laws means unabated destruction of mountains, forests and streams. More coal might feed the frenzy for short-term energy, but do so at the cost of our ecological health and economic well-being. The state ignores its own Division of Water reports about the degradation of water quality resulting from radical strip mining and continues allowing the intentional destruction of streams -- another example that the “energy at any cost” mentality still rules in the state capitol.

Second, any plan must make sure affordable energy remains accessible to all Kentuckians. Kentucky’s past and present dependence on coal for electricity in a carbon constrained future looms as a menacing financial and environmental liability. New coal plants are expensive and will continue the upward spiral of electricity rates. Experimental coal sequestration technology, decades away, could increase the cost of electricity another 50 to 80 percent. Clearly, this path is making electricity less accessible to lower income families and creating a burden for small businesses.

Energy accessibility and security demand that we look toward sources that provide the greatest price and supply stability.

Third, we must take advantage of the growing green economy or we face being left behind. A recent Apollo Alliance report showed that investment in a clean and efficient economy would "lead to over 3 million new green-collar jobs, stimulate $1.4 trillion in new GDP, add billions in personal income and retail sales, produce $284 billion in net energy savings, all while generating sufficient returns to the U.S. treasury to pay for itself over 10 years." How much of this will Kentucky capture, or will it go to other states while we’re still mired in old dirty power?

The state currently offers only $76 million in incentives to Integrity Manufacturing for 1,000 new jobs building electric cars compared to $250 million to Peabody Energy to create 500 coal gasification jobs. This may be circumstantial, but it is a clear indication of how our priorities must change.

Visionary leadership will see this moment as an opportunity to move Kentucky into the future that we have the power to create. But it will require breaking away from the old mindsets, the old political alliances and fossil-fuel submission. We have no time to waste.

Doerrfeld is the chairperson of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.

Copyright (C) 2008 by the Kentucky Forum. 10/08