Progress being made in energy conservation

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By Rick Rand

Over the last several years, the General Assembly has re-doubled its efforts to make Kentucky a leader in energy production and conservation.

This process has evolved with the successful passage of House Bill 1 and House Bill 2, which include new rounds of tax incentives to boost alternative fuel sources and to encourage homes and businesses alike to curb their power needs. Legislators have also invested millions of dollars to further clean-coal research, and we have pushed to make state government’s buildings and automotive fleet more environmentally friendly.

On Thursday, Governor Steve Beshear laid out his proposal to build on these legislative initiatives.  The 144-page plan – which can be found online at http://governor.ky.gov/ – sets some ambitious goals to be reached by 2025.

The biggest, perhaps, is having Kentucky eventually derive a fourth of its projected energy needs from greater efficiencies, conservation and more reliance on renewable energy sources like biofuels, wind, solar and hydropower.  That’s an especially tall order when considering our energy needs are expected to grow 40 percent by 2025.

The governor’s plan still acknowledges the reality that Kentucky’s biggest energy sources are coal and natural gas.  His plan calls for the coal-to-liquid industry to take off and eventually produce four billion gallons of liquid fuel each year.  He also wants to see Kentucky stop importing more than half of its natural gas and provide all of it through greater in-state production or by synthesizing it from coal.

Given the fact that the federal government will almost certainly put stricter limits on carbon dioxide as a way to slow global warming, the plan also calls for renewed efforts to make coal truly clean to burn.  That includes finding ways to safely store carbon dioxide underground or even to use it to grow algae, which could then be converted to a biofuel.

This is a critical area, because more than 90 percent of Kentucky’s electricity is generated by coal.  We need to find ways to cut carbon-dioxide emissions – we’re the 13th largest producer among the states – to keep our electric bills low.

House Bill 1 in 2007 already established a standard that any new coal-to-gas facility be carbon-capture ready.  Fortunately, research in the lab is starting to bear fruit out in the field.  The world’s first coal-fired power plant to sequester carbon dioxide underground, for example, recently opened as a pilot project in Germany.  According to Popular Mechanics magazine, the hope is that this method could be viable by 2020.

One of the more interesting aspects of the governor’s plan is his suggestion that Kentucky at least consider nuclear power as an option.  Five of our surrounding states have at least one nuclear plant, he pointed out, and nuclear energy provides about a fifth of the nation’s electricity.

Although it has been years since the last plant was built in the United States, progress is being made toward building more.  Right now, Kentucky law effectively bars any consideration of them, at least until the federal government is able to establish a safe and permanent site for spent fuel.

Governor Beshear said his hope is that, if Kentucky can realize all of the goals in this plan, as many as 40,000 new jobs in the energy industry alone could result – not to mention the untold benefits Kentucky would reap.

It may be a difficult time for the country economically, but I believe the key to the turn-around can be found in a new wave of energy generation that enables us to rely less on other countries.  Kentucky has the resources and the know-how to be a leading player when that occurs.  The legislature has taken a leading role in energy, and we will work with the governor to continue making progress.

As always, I encourage you to let me know your thoughts on this or any other issue affecting state government.  I can be reached by writing to Room 351C, 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, and I hope all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

Representative Rick Rand