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Kentuckians demand utility regulators consider climate change in long-term planning

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Ryan Van Velzer
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More than two-dozen Kentuckians called on Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities to do more to address climate change in its 15-year plan during a public hearing Tuesday.

Students, retirees, mothers, educators, conservationists and even a member of a climate-conscious convent spoke during public comments at the Public Service Commission meeting in Frankfort.

“This plan is of extreme importance in shaping the behavior of all the ratepayers, businesses, residents and I strongly believe that this plan is not adequate to meet the challenges we are facing in years 2022 and beyond,” Jackie Cobb, of Louisville, said.

LG&E and KU filed their integrated resource plan with utility regulators last October. The plan forecasts how the state’s largest utility plans to meet the energy needs of its 1.3 million customers while providing low-cost power at reasonable rates — its primary purpose under state law.

Over the next 15 years, LG&E plans on retiring at least 2,000 megawatts of coal-fired generating capacity including two units at Mill Creek in Louisville, a unit at E.W. Brown near Harrodsburg and two units at Ghent Station, in northern Kentucky, the company’s largest coal-fired power plant.

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J. Tyler Franklin
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The Mill Creek Generating Station in southwest Louisville.

Even with those retirements, coal would still represent more than half of LG&E and KU’s energy mix in 2036. That doesn’t include natural gas, which LG&E says it will rely on, at least in part, to replace the retiring coal plants.

LG&E and KU’s plan evaluates three scenarios that would determine how much natural gas energy capacity the utilities bring online versus renewable sources like solar. For example, high natural gas prices could push the utilities toward adopting more renewables.

The utilities say they could add as much as 500 to 1,500 megawatts of solar by 2030 depending on economic futures.

Attorneys for Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities say their plan offers ratepayers reliable, least-cost service that makes historic investments in renewable energy.

But while LG&E’s attorneys have argued that addressing climate change falls outside their obligations under state law, Cobb told the Public Service Commission that the opposite is true.

“My understanding is that the mission of the PSC is to ‘foster the provision of safe and reliable service at a reasonable price’ and knowing what we know about the certainty of human-caused climate change and the contribution of fossil fuels to this crisis, I believe it requires that the PSC also define ‘safe and reliable’ as low carbon,” Cobb said.

Everyone who spoke during public comment Tuesday said LG&E and KU need to do more to address climate change. Some said LG&E and KU’s plans failed to consider ratepayers’ welfare because they did not do enough to address climate change; one speaker called it a “moral obligation.”

Carolyn Cromer spoke on behalf of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth of Kentucky. She said her Catholic faith calls on her to care for earth and develop a sustainable relationship with the planet. Her convent has already installed 75 kilowatts of solar and plans to be carbon-neutral by 2037, she said.

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Ryan Van Velzer
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Sustainability Directory Caroline Cromer stands in front of solar panels at the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth ministry near Bardstown, Kentucky.

“The LG&E KU plan to burn coal for 40 more years while not considering rooftop solar as part of its energy mix is irresponsible and speaks of misplaced priorities, that of placing profit over planet and all life,” Cromer said.

Katherine Smith with the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition said the utilities need to be a leader in addressing climate change and inequity.

“I’m here today because I’m one of many youth living in Kentucky who are already bearing the brunt of climate change and will frankly have to feel the impacts of it much longer than many of the people who have written the LG&E KU IRP.”

Amy Pascucci is a stay-at-home mom from Bardstown who said she’s deeply concerned about the impacts climate change will have on her children. She called in from a playground while watching her child play in a sandbox.

“We are called everyday to be the adults in our families,” she said. “And we expect for you who are listening, who do have the research and can make decisions, we expect you to make the hard decisions for our children.”