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First months of 2009 were pivotal

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By The Staff

Years from now, when we look back on Kentucky’s growing role in helping the country become more energy independent, the first few months of this year will undoubtedly be considered a pivotal time.

First, back in late January, a former Kentucky couple donated $20 million to the new alternative energy center at the University of Louisville.  This money – the largest individual gift ever received by our state’s public universities – will go a long way to putting the state at the forefront of cutting-edge research of renewable energy sources like biofuels, wind and solar.  It will be an ideal complement to the groundbreaking work we are already doing with clean-coal technology and conservation.

Our work in this field doesn’t end there, however.  Last Wednesday, we officially set our sights on its next frontier: designing a battery that doesn’t just work alongside gasoline-powered engines, but replaces them.

To get us there, Governor Beshear announced that the state, the University of Kentucky, U of L and the prestigious Argonne National Laboratory would create a national research and development center that will focus on the next generation of car batteries.

As the lab’s director noted, our country dominated this industry for decades, but lagged in developing the batteries now installed in hybrids like the Toyota Prius.  The new center, to be located just north of Lexington, will search for ways to power vehicles so they can travel as far on electricity from an outlet as they could on a tank of gas.

Kentucky was chosen in part for this because of its prominence in the auto industry.  Only two states produce more vehicles, and neither of those can boast of being within a day’s drive of 69 vehicle assembly plants and 4,800 auto-related manufacturers.

A day after this announcement, the state recognized more than a dozen buildings that have earned the prestigious ENERGY STAR designation.  There are now 45 of these in Kentucky, all of which have taken steps to significantly cut their energy use.  These buildings range from small to nearly 200,000 square feet, and from new to those 70 years or older.

Many more state government buildings are scheduled to follow suit after Governor Beshear finalized regulations in February that call on new construction or major renovations to meet stringent energy-saving requirements.  The General Assembly set this in motion during the 2008 Regular Session.

This year, one of the legislature’s most significant new energy laws will lead to a study of just how much natural gas and petroleum we have on state-owned lands.  There are some estimates that it could be worth as much as $40 million annually.

When we get the report late this year, the legislature will then decide what steps to take.  There certainly are no plans to disturb pristine areas, but there should be ways to tap these resources responsibly.  First, we have to see exactly where the resources are.

As these and many other examples show, there is a lot of energy surrounding energy research in Kentucky.  It may still be a while before all of the power we need can be found here at home, but the way to get there is becoming increasingly clear.

I encourage those who have any questions or comments about these issues to contact me.  My address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.

You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For the deaf or hard of hearing, the number is 800-896-0305.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Representative Rick Rand