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Louisville asks for bids to study city-owned electric utility


Louisville Metro government is asking researchers to consider how the city could make its own utility in order to meet sustainability goals. 

The city is acting on a 2020 resolution that all city-government buildings receive 100% renewable electricity by 2030. To meet its goals, metro officials have been working with the National Renewable Energy Lab, a research lab run by the U.S. Department of Energy. 

“They kind of looked at the regulatory environment of Kentucky, they looked at our energy use and laid out a couple of possible routes,” said Allison Smith, assistant director at Louisville’s Office of Advanced Planning and Sustainability. 

The city currently gets its electricity from Louisville Gas & Electric, which generates much of its power using fossil fuels that contribute to climate change.

Smith said Louisville Metro wants researchers to conduct a feasibility study looking at ways the city could connect to the electric grid without LG&E.

“We would look at building our own transmission lines and distribution networks on top of what LG&E has,” Smith said. “So basically we would build on top of LG&E’s distribution network using our public right of way then we could connect to what’s called the MISO network.”

That’s the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, a non-profit organization that operates the power grid for 15 states and parts of Canada. If Louisville ran its own transmission lines, the city could purchase its own renewable electricity on the open market at wholesale prices.

Right now, the city is only looking at a study to provide renewable electricity for city-owned buildings or a subset of them, not the entire community. 

While LG&E has committed to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and plans to retire several coal-generating units over the next 15 years, the utility still plans to burn coal and natural gas for the foreseeable future and doesn’t plan on retiring its last coal power plant until 2066.

LG&E is aware of the city’s sustainability goals and has had discussions with Metro government on different ways of achieving them, Smith said. 

It’s possible the city could also purchase clean electricity through LG&E under a green tariff, similar to an agreement the utility recently made with state universities and others. Under that scenario, the renewable energy would not actually come from LG&E, but from a merchant solar company using LG&E’s transmission lines. 

Smith said the city doesn’t want to limit its options so it’s exploring multiple avenues to reaching its climate commitments. 

“We made a very ambitious commitment to get to clean electricity by 2030,” Smith said. “I think as the renewable market changes, as federal regulations change, our ability to get there is going to change as well.”

The request-for-proposals closes Feb. 25.  

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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