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In Coal Country, A Win for Clean Energy

A Kentucky power cooperative had plans to burn more coal. Local residents instead demanded cleaner energy and greater efficiency—and won.

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, photo by Laura Heller

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth opposes mountaintop removal coal mining.

Photo by Laura Heller

Clean energy activists are elated over a big victory in the heart of coal country, where a Kentucky power cooperative has agreed to cancel plans to build a new coal-fired power plant.

The East Kentucky Power Cooperative struck a deal with an alliance of grassroots activists and others to halt plans for the proposed coal-burning unit at Smith Power Station in Clark County, Ky. The agreement involves the grassroots citizens group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth along with the Kentucky Environmental Foundation, Sierra Club, the Kentucky attorney general, and Gallatin Steel, the EKPC's biggest industrial customer. Also involved in the agreement were individual co-op members, including noted Kentucky author and farmer Wendell Berry, a member of the Shelby Energy co-op.

Besides canceling the plant's construction, EKPC will also commit $125,000 to working with public interest groups and its member co-ops to come up with ideas for new energy efficiency programs and clean-energy options.

"Renewables and demand-side management programs will play increasingly important roles in the energy industry," said EKPC Chief Financial Officer Mike McNalley. "This collaborative will help EKPC gather ideas and feedback to explore the realistic potential of renewables and demand-side management here in Kentucky."

Coal mine, photo by Wally GobetzThe High Cost of Cheap Coal
More and more people are recalculating the true price of coal, deciding it’s simply too high to pay.

Under the agreement, which was announced Nov. 18, EKPC will withdraw all the permits it needs to build the Smith coal plant. In return, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and its allies will dismiss a number of lawsuits and administrative challenges pending against EKPC, and they will not oppose EKPC's efforts to recover costs already spent on the plant.

The deal was reached after a long campaign by Kentucky activists who showed up by the hundreds at public hearings for the plant's permits, gathered thousands of signatures on petitions, met with local co-op directors, sent letters to the Kentucky attorney general and local newspapers, and hosted house parties to discuss the issues with their neighbors.

"Sometimes it can feel like you are a voice in the wilderness," said Kentuckians for the Commonwealth member Randy Wilson. "But it's important to get involved and keep pushing for solutions. Now we have a chance to work together with the co-ops to create jobs here at home while at the same time helping people save energy and money."


Sue-Sturgis.jpg

Sue Sturgis is editorial director of the Institute for Southern Studies and co-editor of the Institute's online magazine, Facing South, where this article first appeared.

Interested?

  • Appalachia Rising for a New Economy: Appalachian residents are serious about putting a stop to mountaintop removal coal mining—and building a more sustainable economy to take its place.
  • Last Mountain Standing: The last intact mountain in West Virginia's Coal River Valley is slated for mountaintop removal coal mining. Local residents have other ideas.
  • Instead of More Coal Plants...: What’s the potential for carbon-free electricity production? How many coal plants could we replace if we turned to carbon-free renewables instead?
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