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LG&E Breaks Ground on New Pollution Controls, Officials Praise Results of EPA Regulations

Louisville Gas and Electric has broken ground on nearly a billion dollars worth of new pollution controls at the company’s Mill Creek Power Plant in southwest Louisville. It’s a two-year process that the company estimates could create up to 700 new construction jobs.LG&E is installing sulfur dioxide scrubbers to further reduce the plant’s sulfur dioxide emissions. The current controls remove 90 percent of sulfur dioxide from the emissions, but the new equipment will increase that to 98 percent. There will also be new fabric filter baghouses to control for mercury and other particulates.The new pollution controls are necessary to comply with new regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency, like the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS), new National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) and theCross-State Air Pollution Rule(which was voided by an appeals court in August but could be reinstated eventually).The speakers at the event included Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Len Peters and House Natural Resources Chairman Jim Gooch. Governor Steve Beshear’s Administration and Gooch have publicly not been fans of the EPA’s regulations—the governor famously once told the agency to “get off our backs.”From a June 2011 Evansville Courier & Press article: After learning that Louisville Gas & Electric and Kentucky Utilities intended to seek permission to raise electrical rates 19 percent to comply with new EPA regulations on emissions, Beshear blasted the agency for engaging in a "war on coal" that "is now threatening to cause drastic utility rate increases." Beshear was not alone in rebuking the federal government over restraints placed on coal. State Rep. Jim Gooch Jr., D-Providence, chairman of the Kentucky House Natural Resources and Environment Committee, noted that customers will pay for tougher environmental standards implemented on coal-fired plants. "Everybody talks about the war on coal," Gooch said. "This is a war on Kentucky."But at the groundbreaking, everyone was complementary of the cleaner air and new jobs the EPA regulations will bring. Gooch and Secretary Len Peters both spoke about the significance to the commonwealth that LG&E is making the necessary investment to keep burning coal at Mill Creek.Gooch praised LG&E for choosing to retrofit the plant, rather than switch to natural gas as many other utilities have done.“It’s welcome news to the coal industry who hasn’t had very much to celebrate in recent months,” he said. “This $900 million investment will enable approximately Illinois Basin coal—much of it mined in West Kentucky—to continue to be burned.”He then extolled the benefits of coal-fired power plants, noting they provide more power and take up less space than wind farms or solar installations.Peters says the Mill Creek project shows a company can comply with the federal regulations and still burn coal.“By virtue of the fact that they’re looking at greater cleanup of particulate matter, mercury and sulfur compounds, this is a next step forward,” he said. “We have been fortunate to have cleaner air produced over the next three decades. We aren’t done yet. But in the context of all of that, we’re doing it with coal.”Louisville Gas and Electric decided it made more economic sense to upgrade Mill Creek to comply with the new pollution controls. Earlier this month, the company announced it would cost less than expected to retrofit the plant, and utility rates will rise 13 percent—rather than the 18 percent originally predicted—by 2016. LG&E plans to retire Louisville’s other coal-fired power plant—Cane Run—and replace it with natural gas.A hiring office at the Mill Creek plant will begin accepting job applications Monday for the new positions.