Jul 142010

Active citizens and the PSC take action for cleaner water in Lexington

By Miranda Brown

Momentum is building to stop the proposed coal-burning Smith power plant in Clark County, just upstream from Lexington. Citizens continue to speak out against the plant and in favor of a cleaner, job-producing solution. At the most recent permit hearing for the plant, Lexington resident Erika Skaggs put things into perspective for the audience and the Army Corps of Engineers: “Every time we lose a stream, a source of clean, fresh water to pass onto our children—that is a disaster.”

For years, East Kentucky Power Cooperative (EKPC) has been planning to build a coal-burning facility just southeast of Winchester on the Kentucky River. The utility provides energy to parts of 87 of Kentucky’s counties.  EKPC’s original intent for the new plant was to increase overall generating capacity so that newly joining regional cooperatives could be supported even during peak use seasons. However, since hatching the original plans, new cooperatives have backed out of joining EKPC, and high energy prices have further reduced the demand for electricity. The site for the proposed 276 megawatt plant, and its proposed coal ash landfill to store waste, is less than 20 miles upstream from Lexington’s drinking water intake. When coal ash pollutes drinking water, there is risk of mercury and arsenic contamination—among other fears that accompany the presence of coal waste.

Even though EKPC has put financing for the plant temporarily on hold, the utility continues to seek pollution permits for the plant.  On June 8, the Army Corps of Engineers held a 404 permit hearing in Winchester to hear public comments on the permit that would allow East Kentucky Power to bury nearly 14 miles of streams and wetlands with coal ash emitted from the proposed Smith plant.  While the Corps has yet to release its statement on that permit, the hearing was filled with overwhelming opposition to the plant.  Of the 32 testimonies, only one spoke in support of plant construction.

Hearing testimonies included that of Skaggs, who cited the Army Corps of Engineers’ own mission to “reduce the risk of disaster” and “to deliver innovative and sustainable solutions to the nation’s energy challenges.”  She called on the Corps to fulfill its mission statement by recognizing the disasters that surround coal mining and coal burning in Kentucky: “Every person who loses their life…because their environment is toxic—that is a disaster.”

Other citizen testimonies cited the plant site’s proximity to Winchester’s and Lexington’s water supplies, the dubious financial status of EKPC, and the wealth of alternative options to the Smith plant. Most of the power that Smith would produce could be covered by energy efficiency initiatives, home weatherization, local, small-scale hydropower at existing dams, and wind power.

Meanwhile, other state and federal agencies are responding to citizens’ outcry against this new power plant. The Kentucky Public Service Commission (PSC), in defense of ratepayers, recently ordered an investigation into the necessity of the Smith plant.  Reconsidering its original four-year-old decision on the necessity of the plant, the PSC announced June 22 that it will begin investigating EKPC’s evaluation of electricity need, as well as co-op consumer needs and EKPC’s increasing debt.  To facilitate its evaluation and allow input from customers and affected others, the PSC will soon hold a public hearing.  Lexington readers should stay tuned for updates on this opportunity to help prevent the construction of the Smith plant.

For more information and periodic updates, readers can visit kftc.org/stopsmith or contact Kentuckians for the Commonwealth organizer Sara Pennington at sara@kftc.org.

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