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Kentuckians could face higher utility costs to improve grid resilience under House bill

Kentuckians could end up paying higher utility bills and keep fossil fuel power plants operating longer under a bill that’s supposed to boost grid resilience.  

Republican Rep. Jim Gooch of Providence is sponsoring House Bill 470 that would require intermittent energy resources like wind and solar to have enough backup power to last 48 hours without interruption. 

However Kentucky utility regulators at the Public Service Commission already require utilities to have enough energy capacity on hand to reliably serve customers and avoid blackouts like what happened during the Texas ice storm last year. 

That’s why a spokesman for the state’s largest utility, Louisville Gas and Electric, is joining with renewable energy researchers to call the bill unnecessary. 

“We believe that current processes in place with the Kentucky Public Service Commission already accomplish what the bill would hope to achieve, because here in Kentucky, unlike Texas, for example, regulated utilities have an obligation to serve and be prepared to serve our customers regardless of weather,” said Daniel Lowry with LG&E. 

Neither Gooch nor the Kentucky Coal Association returned requests for comment. The language of the bill is substantially similar to model legislation drafted by the rightwing American Legislative Exchange Council. 

The bill states “the commission,” presumably the Public Service Commission, shall develop rules to require the state’s grid to be interconnected, reliable and resilient. 

But renewable energy researcher Andy McDonald points out the bill is silent on distributed renewable energy resources like rooftop solar, which boost grid resilience. 

McDonald said the bill is instead a lifeline to prop up fossil fuel resources like coal, which is more expensive and worse for the environment.  

“This bill is intended to keep old, uneconomic coal plants operating under the pretense of grid reliability and to disadvantage lower cost renewable energy resources,” McDonald said. 

The bill would result in redundant sources of power that would increase costs for utilities and for ratepayers, he said.

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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