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Utility officials push against a proposed bill that would stall coal retirements in Kentucky

The John Amos power station in Putnam Co., WV.
Tiki Lucas via Creative Commons
The John Amos power station in Putnam Co., WV.

A bill adding hurdles for utilities to retire coal-fired power plants passed the Senate Natural Resources and Energy committee Wednesday.

Senate Bill 4 would give state utility regulators the authority to approve or deny the retirement of a fossil-fuel generating unit. To move ahead with a closure, utilities would have to demonstrate it would not affect reliability or increase customer costs.

The nation’s coal-fired power plants are getting older and more expensive to operate at the same time renewables like solar and windare cheaper than ever.

Republican Sen. Robby Mills of Henderson said the energy transition is happening too fast and hurting the reliability of the grid.

“Senate Bill 4 is designed to ring the bell in Kentucky, and hopefully in the nation, and to serve as our initial action to address the coming reliability crisis in electric generation,” Mills said.

Representatives from Louisville Gas and Electric and Duke Energy present at the hearing said the bill would have the opposite impact, damaging grid reliability and raising the costs on a typical electricity bill by forcing utilities to operate coal plants well past their useful lives.

“If this bill passes, we would not be able to close a fossil fuel plant. That isn’t hyperbole,” said Rocco D'Ascenzo, deputy general counsel Duke Energy Kentucky.

LG&E Vice President Kent Blake said their utility has “every incentive in the world to keep coal-fired generation as long as it’s reasonably possible,” but that it’s in the utility’s and the customer’s best interest to retire coal plants when it’s economically prudent.

“When we bring a case forward that says now is the time to retire a given coal-fired unit, you can believe that now is the time,” Blake said.

Both Mills and committee chair Republican Sen. Brandon Smith of Hazard said unreliable grids can lead to power outages that put people’s lives at risk.

Left unsaid at the hearing were the impacts of climate change, and the large role that coal has played in warming the planet.

There is scientific consensus that humanity must essentially halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 in order to limit global warming to 2.7 degrees.

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email him at
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