energy

Shalina Chatlani | WPLN News (file)

Tennessee’s electric utility is starting the long process that could eventually lead to closure of its most-polluting coal plant.

Tennessee Valley Authority Jeff Lyash has already announced this month that it plans to end all coal power generation by 2035. And TVA spokesman Scott Brooks says the utility is beginning the preliminary review with the Cumberland Fossil Plant in Stewart County, which has two separate coal-fired units.

“These are the two largest coal units we have in our fleet,” Brooks says. “So if there’s any logic to it, it would make sense that we would start with our two largest units.”

The Cumberland plant produces enough power for more than 1 million homes. It also releases 8 million tons of carbon emissions into the air each year, as well as especially high mercury releases into the Cumberland River, according to the Sierra Club of Tennessee.

Google Earth

A Marathon oil refinery in eastern Kentucky is one of 13 refineries across the country that released harmful levels of a cancer-causing pollutant, according to a report from the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project.

Fence line readings for benzene jumped 233% between 2019 and 2020 at the Catlettsburg Marathon refinery near Ashland, and were 11% above action levels designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Benzene is a common pollutant found in oil and a known human carcinogen. The increase in benzene levels at the Catlettsburg Marathon refinery is likely the result of two leaks from March and October, said Eric Schaeffer, Environmental Integrity Project executive director.

LG&E’s Parent Company Paid No Federal Taxes Last Year

Apr 28, 2021
Ryan Van Velzer

In a year when Kentuckians struggled to pay their utilities bills because of a global pandemic, Louisville Gas and Electric’s parent company paid nothing in federal taxes.

PPL reported around $900 million in pre-tax income last year and was one of 55 U.S. corporations that paid nothing in federal corporate income taxes, according to a report co-authored by Matt Gardner of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. 

Instead of paying tax at 21%, which is the federal statutory rate, they reported zero and actually got about $9 million back essentially as a tax rebate, Gardner said.

Ryan Van Velzer

The future of renewable energy in Kentucky, and who is going to pay for it, is taking shape at a hearing before Kentucky utility regulators.  

Kentucky Power is asking the Public Service Commission this week to lower the rates utilities pay residential solar customers for power they produce. That’s the billing system known as net metering, which credits utility customers for the excess power they put on the grid. 

On Tuesday, The Public Service Commission heard public comments and expert witness testimony from utilities on the value of net-metering during a hearing held remotely at the regulator’s headquarters in Frankfort.

Adam Schultz

President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan contains tens of billions of dollars to address environmental and economic issues throughout the Ohio Valley region, according to details released Wednesday by the White House.

Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, had promised a major infrastructure initiative, but one never got traction during his four years in office.

Speaking in Pittsburgh Wednesday, Biden called his plan the largest jobs investment since World War II. 

“It’s not a plan that tinkers around the edges,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-generation investment in America, unlike anything we’ve seen or done since we built the interstate highway system and the space race decades ago.”

Ryan Van Velzer

While Louisville Gas & Electric was asking utility regulators permission to build a 12-mile-long natural gas pipeline through Bullitt County at ratepayers expense, internal utility records projected that nearly all of the additional gas would go to just one customer — Beam Suntory, the makers of Jim Beam Bourbon.

With the additional gas service, Beam Suntory would have become LG&E’s second-largest customer, after Ford, records show. 

Utility regulators granted LG&E approval to build the pipeline in 2017. Since then, however, the project has stalled amid a slew of pending permit approvals and lawsuits.

Bryce Baumann

A new bill in the Kentucky legislature could ban large-scale solar projects on farmland in the state, out of fears that the growing solar industry could be a detriment to the preservation of productive farmland. But a leading solar advocate in the state believes the bill is an overreaction and could significantly hamper the dawning solar industry. 

Republican State Sen. Steve West said the bill filed Monday is his way to address a long-term problem of increasing development destroying prime farmland for future generations, with large solar installations adding to that pressure. 

“What was once an income-producing property for the people of that county, is now possibly, you could say maybe an eyesore to the neighbor,” West said. He is also concerned that solar projects could degrade the farmland where projects are placed over time.

illustration by NPR

After an extraordinary inauguration ceremony marked by heightened security and coronavirus safety measures, President Joe Biden started his first day in office signing executive actions on climate change, immigration, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even before taking the oath of office, Biden was already addressing the nation about his ambitious plans to fight the twin crises of a pandemic and a flagging economy.

“We understand what you are going through,” Biden said in an address about what he called a rescue plan for the nation. “We will never ever give up and we will come back. We’ll come back together.”

 

  

Peabody Energy, Inc., via Wikimedia Commons

A federal bankruptcy judge has denied a petition from former Blackjewel coal executive Jeff Hoops to liquidate the company. The decision means the reorganization of the company will continue under Chapter 11 bankruptcy as former employees, creditors and state agencies seek to recover millions owed by the company.

Hoops cited “permanent negative cash flow” at his former company, which has accrued at least $80 million in administrative and other expenses since its bankruptcy filing on July 1 last year. 

The nearly 3,000-filing-long Blackjewel bankruptcy docket demonstrates an 18-month scramble by the company’s creditors to recuperate as much money as possible from a too-small pot.

Erica Peterson

Environmental and community advocates in Appalachian coal communities are concerned about a new federal rule, finalized this week, that is changing the process that allows citizens to file complaints about polluting coal mining operations.

The Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement said in a Tuesday press release that the changes to the 10-Day Notice policy would “streamline” the complaint process. 

Under federal law and agency regulations, anyone can notify the agency about alleged mining violations. Under the original rule, the agency would share the complaint with state regulators. That kicked off a 10-day clock for the state to take action, either by forcing the company to fix the problem, or showing why action wasn’t necessary.

America Amplified

On a recent Saturday, over Zoom, a group of seven high schoolers from Wyoming, eastern Kentucky and West Virginia gazed at an image of a gleaming, pale blue, coal-fired power plant. 

“OK, so this one really interested us,” said Sarah Belcher, a senior from eastern Kentucky. “So we noticed your all’s coal facilities, they’re really new, state of the art. And around here, like they’re older, they’re really rusty. What has caused you all to be able to have that there?”

The power plant in the photo is Dry Fork Station, one of the newest coal-fired plants in the country. It’s located seven miles north of Gillette, Wyoming. The self-proclaimed “energy capital of the nation,” Gillette is surrounded by some of the most productive coal mines in the United States. In fact, Wyoming accounted for about 40 percent of all coal mined in the country in 2018.

 


Benny Becker

Ohio environmental regulators have canceled key permits needed for an underground natural gas liquids storage facility proposed along the Ohio River. 

According to an order from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, permits to drill three three Class III solution mining wells in Monroe County, Ohio were cancelled on Sept. 21. Cancellation was requested by Powhatan Salt Company LCC. The proposed wells are associated with the Mountaineer NGL Storage project, a multi-million dollar underground natural gas liquids storage project. 

Experts say natural gas liquid storage — like the proposed Mountaineer project — is crucial to building out the Ohio Valley’s petrochemical industry.

Still from CSPAN video

In 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump was all-in on the fossil fuel industry. In a 2016 rally in Charleston, West Virginia, the candidate proudly accepted an endorsement from that state’s coal association, donning a hardhat while he mimed digging coal. To thundering applause, he promised to bring back coal jobs to the struggling Appalachian coalfields. 

Four years later, there are fewer jobs in coal than ever, and that enthusiasm was largely absent from the energy pitch the Republican Party made to the American people in its four-night-long convention last week. That’s left stakeholders in Ohio Valley coal regions reading the tea leaves on what another four years of a Trump Administration might look like. 

 


DNC video

Democrats made their pitch to the American people during a largely virtual Democratic National Convention and addressing climate change emerged as a central tenet of the party’s plan. 

The party platform spells out a major investment in green energy jobs and infrastructure in order for America to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emission no later than by 2050. Environmental justice is a key component of the Democrat’s climate plan and it references ensuring fossil fuel workers and communities receive investment and support during this clean energy transition.

 


Bobby Balthis

The Mine Safety and Health Administration is declining to issue an emergency temporary standard that could protect coal miners whose jobs make them vulnerable to the coronavirus. 

That’s according to an August 14 letter from Department of Labor Deputy Assistant Secretary Joe Wheeler to West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. MSHA can issue emergency temporary standards only when it determines that miners are exposed to a grave danger. It has only issued a handful of such standards, MSHA said, typically in the aftermath of large-scale mining disasters. 

In the letter, Wheeler writes, “At this time, MSHA has determined it lacks evidence that COVID-19 poses a grave risk specific to miners.”

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