As promised, here is the third part of the Q&A LEO Weekly conducted with all four candidates in the Senate 19th Democratic primary race (first two parts here and here). We’ll have more questions and answers up throughout the next few days.
In this edition, we talk about the percentage of energy Kentucky uses from coal, and whether such a thing as “clean coal” exists.
Kentucky currently gets 92 percent of its power from burning coal. In eight years, what is your realistic goal for this percentage, and how do we get there?
Amy Shoemaker: First of all, we need to start investing in some big choices toward renewable energy sources, be they wind, solar, biofuels, all of those things that we need to begin incentivizing the development of. Like we know, there are subsidies for the coal industry. But I would like to see in the next eight years that we bring that number down to 60, realistically. And also recognize that we’re going to run out of coal, and betting on those resources are only going to take us so far. 60 percent or less would be an amazing opportunity, and perhaps I’m being a bit idealistic, but hey, I’m a candidate.
Sarah Lynn Cunningham: Assuming political and industrial leadership, I think we can get it down to 82 percent, we could drop it 10 percent. And the way I would do it, and I can’t emphasize this enough, the cheapest, fastest and cleanest way to meet our energy needs is energy efficiency. We could easily knock it down by 10 percent in 8 years if we just went around and did simple things to reduce our energy demands. Things that would create jobs, save money, and help the planet. And I’m not exaggerating one bit, I’m truly speaking as an engineer, not some treehugger. Because I’ve done it.
Morgan McGarvey: That question I think glosses over a lot of things. First of all, we’re talking about energy and coal and the environment, but we have to realize first and foremost that there is a federal primacy here. In Kentucky right now, we do not even have close to the regulatory framework or structure to get nuclear power in Kentucky. Most energy experts, environmental and otherwise, have said that Kentucky itself does not have the ability to rely heavily on wind and solar power. So we need to look at what we can do in the short-term, and eight years is a short-term when we’re talking about something like energy. What we need to do is focus on more efficient use of energy. We need to focus on making our homes more efficient, our businesses more efficient, so we’re using less electricity that would, in turn, use less coal. We also need to start looking into a smarter grid technology, so there could be power transferred from other places that use wind and solar power to Kentucky. Now whether that can happen in eight years or not, I don’t know that it would actually be here in eight years, but we can certainly start the process of getting it here. So I don’t know what percentage of our power will come from coal in eight years, because we could use significantly less coal for power, but still have it be a high percentage of the power, because that’s what the power plants here use to provide power to Kentuckians.
Gary Demling: For one, people need to be more careful I guess in utilizing electricity in general. Turning lights off, their TVs. But I think we need to look for better sources of energy. Now solar energy is something that is very, very big right now, green energy. And nuclear energy has been explored, but Wall Street won’t even touch it, so we can’t go that route. I think people need to be a little more cautious. I think we need to find better ways. I’d like to see it reduced within eight years to half of that. Is that far-fetched? No, I think that’s very possible. But we need to explore more ways. I am all for investing money into finding more ways to conserve energy, but we have to have documented proof that it’s going to be a realistic and efficient way to resource our energy. Anything that saves the planet in a sense, but also doesn’t disrupt the coal industry, we can come to an agreement. I think we can balance that out.
Does “clean coal” exist?
Shoemaker: I think that’s a beautifully marketed term that doesn’t live up to its brand.
Cunningham: No. We have proven technologies that we’ve had for decades that make for cleaner coal, and we only employ it when mandated by the government. So I don’t know why the industry wants to talk to me about clean coal when they won’t use cleaner coal. Besides the fact that we don’t have the technology for some things, but we have technology that we don’t even use. And I will say that LG&E has been a leader in using it, but they were also under order to do something.
McGarvey: I think that we have to look at technologies to make coal cleaner. We do use coal in our power plants right now, and we have to make sure that we are containing the coal ash that is put off, and that we are using the right scrubbing and other techniques to make the process as environmentally clean as possible. (McGarvey called LEO back to clarify his answer …) I do not believe there is such a thing as clean coal. It’s not a clean substance. But I do believe that there is such a thing as cleaner coal. Based on the economic realities of where we are right now, we’re not going to stop burning it in the next eight years, and we have to spend some amount of time making sure that the coal that is burned is burned as cleanly as possible.
Demling: I think it probably does. I’ve spent a lot of time in the mountains. I know that the ash that comes from coal is not necessarily considered very clean. It’s very polluting, especially when we’re talking about mountaintops, polluting our valleys. But I think that there is clean coal out there. I just think that we need more studies. And that’s something that I think we can’t turn our backs on, the coal industry, without knowing more proof. Yes, I believe that there is clean coal out there. But we need to find better ways.