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LG&E/KU’s trade group pushes back on EPA proposal to cut greenhouse gas emissions

Coal stacks at Mill Creek Generating Station
Ryan Van Velzer
Coal stacks at the Louisville Gas &Electric Mill Creek Generating Station.

Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to a trade association that’s pushing back on proposed rules regulating greenhouse gas emissions from gas and coal-fired power plants. LG&E officials say their position is in alignment with the trade association.

A national trade association that represents U.S. investor-owned electric utilities including LG&E/KU says the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to cut carbon emissions relies too much on expensive technologies that have not been proven at scale.

The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) is a national trade association whose members provide electricity for nearly 250 million Americans in all 50 states. On Tuesday, the EEI filed comments saying the new standards will impact electric companies’ ability to provide affordable, reliable power to their customers.

LG&E/KU are members of the trade association through its parent company PPL. Each year they pay nearly $360,000 in dues.

Natasha Collins, a spokesperson for LG&E/KU, said the utility’s views are in alignment with EEI. She said the company believes clean energy innovations are necessary to achieve net-zero emissions, but is concerned about the impact unproven technologies could have on their ability to provide reliable, affordable electricity.

“Changes demanded too quickly before there’s proven technology at this scale could jeopardize utilities’ ability to maintain a resilient, reliable energy grid and keep rates affordable for customers,” Collins said in an emailed statement.

Collins said the utility’s trade association membership costs are not passed onto customers. Kentucky rules prevent customers from picking up the tab for promotional and political advertising on behalf of investor-owned utilities, but also allow customers to pay a percentage of dues for trade group dues if they provide a benefit.

The power sector is the country’s largest stationary source of greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for about 25% of all emissions since 2021. The EPA proposed the new carbon pollution standards for coal and gas-fired power plants in May.

Under the EPA proposal, coal and new natural gas power plants would have to reduce their carbon dioxide output by more than 600 million metric tons through 2042. The decrease in harmful pollutants would result in approximately 1,300 fewer premature deaths per year, and save an estimated $5 billion per year in climate and health care costs, according to a fact sheet.

Beginning in 2030, the proposal would generally require fossil fuel power plants to control more of their carbon emissions using methods like carbon capture and storage (CCS), and blending natural gas with hydrogen at new gas plants.

The EPA says these technologies are affordable, but EEI and its members don’t buy it. In comments to the EPA, EEI said the EPA’s limits aren’t legal or technically sound based on where these technologies are at today.

“Given these realities, neither CCS nor hydrogen blending are adequately demonstrated today as they are not deployable, available, or affordable across the entirety of the industry, and the attendant supporting infrastructure will take more time than EPA predicts to deploy,” according to the comments.

In Kentucky, utilities are testing these technologies, but have had trouble making them cost effective. Kentucky Power’s parent company, American Electric Power,ran a carbon capture and storage project for two years on a coal plant in West Virginia, but didn’t expand to commercial scale because they couldn’t make it economically viable.

Similarly, an LG&E/KU official testified to state utility regulators last year that carbon capture remains an aspirational goal, its potential “yet to be determined.” LG&E/KU has also said its natural gas plants could begin blending hydrogen with natural gas to further reduce their carbon footprint, but the utility was not certain about the possibility.

That said, LG&E is also betting on carbon capture and plans to continue burning coal after 2050 if the technology is proven to be cost effective.

EEI President and CEO Tom Kuhn said the association’s member companies do support regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, but aren’t confident in the new technologies the EPA plans to use as the basis for the new standards.

“EEI and our member companies support regulations for GHG emissions. In fact, we participated in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court last year in defense of EPA's authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate these emissions,” Kuhn said.

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

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