This week, Kentucky Power, a subsidiary of American Electric Power explained in a filing to the Kentucky Public Service Commission that the most economical option for the Big Sandy coal-fired unit 2 is to retire by June of 2015. Allied community and environmental groups, including Earthjustice, KFTC, and Sierra Club, laud the filing and note that it underscores the changing economics in a region where cleaner fuel alternatives are more cost effective for customers and safer for the community.
The Big Sandy coal plant. (Shawn Poynter)
“Retiring the aging Big Sandy is the right choice, but there’s more work to be done and Kentucky Power is still not making the best investment," said Alex DeSha, representative of Sierra Club in eastern Kentucky. "Just because Kentucky Power dropped a ridiculous 31 percent rate increase to an 8 percent increase for an out of state coal plant doesn’t make it a good deal for Kentuckians, Kentucky Power can do better for the community, its workers, and the environment by investing in renewable energy and efficiency, proven strategies that will create local jobs and provide a secure energy future for Kentucky.”
The Big Sandy coal plant, located in eastern Kentucky and owned by American Electric Power, has been in operation since 1963. In 2009 it was rated one of the top 50 dirtiest plants in America and its coal ash pond (where the waste from coal burning is stored) is considered a risk to human life. Because of this, many local citizens who have been working to transition the plant away from coal-fired power are left with a lot of questions and more work to do.
“Across the country today we’re seeing clear signs that regulators are wise to take a second look at requests from electric utilities trying to pass the costs of retrofitting aging dirty coal plants onto ratepayers. The country can satisfy its power needs with lower cost and cleaner options that will create jobs, and we’ll continue to make that case wherever we’re needed,” said Earthjustice attorney Shannon Fisk.
The filing to the Public Service Commission states the reason for the proposed retirement is that it’s the “least cost alternative for meeting its [Kentucky Power’s] long-term capacity obligations… [and] as a consequence of Big Sandy Unit 2’s proposed retirement, the unit will not be retrofitted.” Those retrofits, argue community and environmental groups, would have cost the average Kentucky customer between $1,500 and $2,000 every year to their electricity bills. Those groups contend that cleaner, safer alternatives like energy efficiency programs, wind and solar power can replace Big Sandy while saving Kentuckians money at a time when they need it the most.
“This filing is a significant milestone in our work to responsibly retire Big Sandy and replace it with clean energy and energy efficiency,” said Bruce Nilles, Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “The economics are simply against putting giant old coal fired power plants on life support. They now have the opportunity to invest in long term, sustainable clean energy jobs for eastern Kentucky.”