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Kentuckians call on regulators to consider climate impacts of LG&E’s natural gas plants 

Smoke stacks behind chain link fence with "no trespassing sign." Blue sky background.
Ryan Van Velzer
/
LPM
The coal-fired Mill Creek Generating Station in Louisville, Kentucky.

Dozens of Kentuckians spoke out against Louisville Gas and Electric’s plans to build two new natural gas plants during the last of five public meetings with utility regulators at Louisville’s downtown library on Wednesday.

LG&E and Kentucky Utilities plan to retire nearly a third of their coal generation by 2028 and replace it with a combination of natural gas, solar and battery storage.

At Wednesday’s meeting, every commenter but one opposed plans to build new fossil fuel infrastructure, arguing it would further contribute to the climate crisis and lock ratepayers into more fossil fuels for decades to come.

Twenty-three-year-old Quincy Robinson said he supports the retirement of the coal generation but opposes the new gas plants, which would account for most of the new power.

“To move from one polluting source, coal, to another polluting source, natural gas, as a source of energy, is not just, especially when it leads to negative health outcomes. We must move entirely towards renewable energy,” he said.

At stake is the future of energy generation for the state’s largest utility. LG&E/KU says their proposal reduces emissions, bolsters their renewable energy portfolio and provides the affordable, reliable service they’re required to under state law.

“While the coal-fired generating units marked for retirement in the request have reliably served customers’ energy needs for five decades or more, the units are reaching the end of their economic life and it is no longer cost-effective for our customers,” according LG&E/KU officials in a press release.

The utility’s officials say they considered an all-renewable energy portfolio but ultimately dismissed it, saying it would cost $2 billion more than the current plan, according to the release. They also said the planned gas plants would produce 65% less carbon emissions than the coal-fired plants they plan to retire.

However, natural gas plants and pipelines are prone to leaking methane, another potent greenhouse gas, and might actually be just as bad for the climate as coal, according to a recent study.

Attendees getting settled at the final of five public meetings on LG&E/KU's proposal to retire and replace power generation on August 16, 2023.
Ryan Van Velzer
/
LPM
Attendees getting settled at the final of five public meetings on LG&E/KU's proposal to retire and replace power generation on August 16, 2023.

Several commenters said utility regulators should consider all of the other costs associated with further reliance on fossil fuels, including the costs to the climate and human health. Others said it’s risky to rely on natural gas because of the volatility in the commodity’s price, or because the plants could end up as stranded assets and lose their value before utilities see a return on that investment

“We deserve all the costs to be included, the cost to the environment, the cost to human life, the cost of methane leakage, the cost of healthcare, the cost of emergency services,” Louisville resident Jackie Cobb said.

Cobb said LG&E/KU should be forced to consider alternatives such as increasing the use of distributed energy like rooftop solar and improving energy efficiency programs that reduce demand for power.

The sole supporter of the new gas power plants present at the Louisville meeting said he was a farmer who lived beside LG&E’s Mill Creek Plant. Gordon Ritchie told utility officials his land already has six gas lines running through it and he would welcome the project.

“I’m really isolated. My property would be an ideal location for this gas-fired power plant,” Ritchie said.

LG&E/KU’s proposals include building two 621-megawatt natural gas combined-cycle units on their existing properties. One would be located at the E.W. Brown Generating Station in Mercer County and the other at the Mill Creek Generating Station in Jefferson County.

Under the plan, LG&E/KU would also build a 120-megawatt solar array in Mercer County, acquire another in Marion County and secure four power purchase agreements for additional solar generation in excess of 600 megawatts, according to the release. The utility would also build a 125 megawatt battery storage facility and offer 14 new energy efficiency programs.

If approved, LG&E would turn on all that new power by 2028 at a cost of more than $2 billion.

LG&E/KU plans to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, with interim reduction targets of 80% from 2010 levels by 2040 and 70% by 2035. LG&E executives say they will burn coal after 2050 if carbon capture is proven to be cost effective.

The commission will begin an evidentiary hearing in the case on Tuesday. A decision is expected by November.

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