Reaching for renewable energy

July 31, 2013

LEXINGTON - A search for common ground on renewable energy between one of Kentucky’s main electric power providers and three environmental groups is producing some results. The East Kentucky Power Cooperative Demand Site Management and Renewable Energy Collaborative links the East Kentucky Power Cooperative with a trio of citizens groups. It was born out of a settlement that stopped the co-op’s plans for another coal-fired power plant.

As the collaborative nears an end, according to the Sierra Club’s Lauren McGrath, it’s working.

“There’s certainly differences, but we’ve all set at the table and come up to these agreements that we agree on and I think that there’s genuine buy-in from both sides,” she said.

East Kentucky Power supplies electricity to 16 distribution co-ops that serve more than a half million homes, farms, businesses and industries. The environmental organizations involved are the Sierra Club Cumberland Chapter, the Kentucky Environmental Foundation and Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.

The collaborative has generated some renewable-energy options which co-op members can participate in voluntarily. For instance, East Kentucky Power has agreed to build and operate a solar farm, and then, as EKPC’s David Crews explained, co-op members can buy in.

“You get all the benefits of a larger farm but you get to purchase, as a retail customer, a panel or a subset of panels, and then we will credit your bill,” he said.

Crews said investing in the 25- to 30-kilowatt solar farm will not be cost-prohibitive, but will be more expensive than typical conventional electric power.

The two-year clean energy collaborative is set to end in October. Billy Edwards, a co-op member from Clark County, is skeptical of East Kentucky Power’s commitment.

“I’ll be the first one in line to buy solar panels to help out the cause,” he declared. “I’ll do everything possible, but they’ve got to open the doors and they’ve got to be transparent. And, they’ve got to give it back to the people who truly own it, and that’s the ratepayers.”

Crews, East Kentucky’s vice president for power supply, said the biggest challenge with clean energy programs is getting the public to participate.

“On these voluntary programs, we will fill the need.”

The cooperative generates about 8 percent of its capacity from renewable-energy sources, all landfill methane plants. Most of its power comes from its coal and natural-gas plants.

For more on the collaborative see EKPC.coop.