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Commentary: SB4 Is Vital: Kentuckians Are Paying a High Price for Closing Coal-Fired Power Plants

By Tucker Davis

Between 2011 and 2022, residential customers of Kentucky Power saw their electric bills increase by 78 percent – from 9 cents per kilowatt hour to 16 cents per kilowatt hour. This increase coincided with the shutdown of the company’s Big Sandy coal-fired power plant and its conversion to natural gas.

Meanwhile, residential customers of LG&E saw their electric bills go up by 33 percent over the same period – from just over 9 cents per kilowatt hour to just over 12 cents per kilowatt hour. And residential customers of Duke Energy saw a 48 percent increase.  Lastly, Kentucky  saw its national rank among states for the lowest cost of power from 4th to 18th.

The one common factor in the rise of electric bills for Kentuckians is the closure of approximately 6000 MW of coal-fired capacity that has been shut down in Kentucky over the past decade. That is enough power generation capacity to provide electricity to every home in Kentucky for three years.

A few months ago, LG&E and KU announced further closures of coal generation across the state, and coal capacity continues to be retired at breakneck speed across the country. Defenders of the push to close coal capacity claim it will save customers money. But it clearly hasn’t so far, as the skyrocketing price of electricity clearly shows. In fact, more and more Kentucky families are facing energy poverty – forced to choose between food on the table and paying their ever-increasing electric bills.

And it isn’t only the price of electricity that is becoming a problem. Utilities are closing down coal-fired capacity faster than the oft-promised replacements with wind, solar and battery storage are being built and brought online. And yet, the power companies have largely shifted from long-term supply contracts for coal, which can be stored at the power plant until needed, to buying coal at spot prices as needed.  This may sound like a good idea, but it prevents the coal companies from producing a regular, dependable amount of coal, which means fewer coal mines operating, few coal miners working and, when the crunch time comes, higher prices for what coal can be produced.

Meanwhile, renewables simply can’t produce as needed. In fact, as shown many times in recent years, they fail and production declines at the very times when the most electricity is needed – such as during the recent bone-chilling cold snap in December, when these same power companies were forced to issue warnings for blackouts, brownouts and shortages, pushing customers to reduce usage just as the need was greatest.

Now, that increased usage, combined with the short-sighted energy policy, is being dumped into ratepayers’  laps with skyrocketing, and unaffordable electric bills.

Defenders of renewables make the argument that it was the “cost of coal” that is causing the high electricity prices, but the reality is that their pursuit of a coal-free energy grid is the true cause of the high electricity prices.  Had that 6000 MW of coal-fired capacity remained online and producing, we would not have experienced the blackouts and the electric bills for ratepayers would have remained much more manageable and predictable – as they always were before.

That, my friends, is the difference between the type of baseload power generation that coal can provide, and the intermittent, unpredictable and undependable power generation that renewables can provide. It also points to the difference between coal and natural gas generation. Again, coal can be stored onsite, at the power plant, to provide fuel as needed to ramp generation up and down. Natural gas cannot. It is delivered “as needed” via pipelines, and those supplies are often interrupted during inclement weather, particularly cold weather.

We simply must bring this runaway train – this relentless and dangerous push to remove coal-fired capacity – to a halt before it careens off the tracks, resulting in an economic catastrophe and putting millions of lives at risk.

Tucker Davis is the President of the Kentucky Coal Association. 

Originally published by RealClearEnergy. Republished with permission.

For more on Kentucky policy, click here.

For more on coal as an energy source, click here.

Tucker Davis
Tucker Davis
Tucker Davis is the President of the Kentucky Coal Association. 


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