HAZARD – Only a handful of people, many of whom were either members of the news media or employees of Kentucky Power or the Public Service Commission, attended a hearing last week on a proposal to replace 700 megawatts of generating capacity at the Big Sandy power plant in Lawrence County. The plant currently serves all of the company’s customers in Eastern Kentucky.
The Public Service Commission (PSC) scheduled the hearing in response to Kentucky Power’s application that, if approved, will result in the scuttling of the plant’s largest of two coal-fired units, allowing the company to purchase a $536 million stake in the Mitchell plant near Moundsville, W. Va. The proposal, the company estimates, will result in a rate hike of up to nine percent for the average customer.
The company had originally planned to upgrade the Big Sandy plant to comply with new federal regulations regarding coal-fired plants, but later withdrew that application citing a price tag of nearly $1 billion that would have been passed on to consumers in the form of a 30 percent rate increase. The company filed its current plan with the Public Service Commission in December, noting the Mitchell plant is already in federal compliance.
Perry County Clerk Haven King, who also serves as director of the pro-coal organization Coal Mining Our Future, attended last week’s hearing in Hazard, saying the plan would have a negative effect on the coal industry in Eastern Kentucky which is responsible for providing 2 million tons of coal to the Big Sandy plant. Higher rates, he added, would also negatively affect senior citizens and local residents on a fixed income.
“The people I care about is our senior citizens,” King said. “They’ll have to make a choice whether they’re going to eat, whether they take their medicine, or whether they have heat (in the winter). And that’s not a very good choice for our people in America, in Eastern Kentucky.”
King said he also fears the ongoing race to utilize more natural gas to generate electricity will cause rates to continue to increase for local customers, because at some point the price of natural gas will increase. Company officials have said the smaller generating unit at Big Sandy could be a target for natural gas conversion, though no plans have yet been filed with the PSC.
There was also concern about other costs associated with shutting down the larger unit, how much it would cost to do so, and what effect that would have on customer’s rates, King continued, which was one question that PSC officials couldn’t answer during last week’s hearing.
“I just didn’t feel like the Public Service Commission had enough information to try to make a decision, and I still don’t think they have enough,” King said this week.
A group in Letcher County joined last week’s hearing in Hazard via teleconference. Elizabeth Sanders is a Whitesburg resident who said the company’s current proposal is not acceptable because Kentucky Power is not investing in a long-term solution that includes renewable energy sources that she said could help provide jobs in the region.
“Just because the rate increase to us, the rate payers, would be 8 percent instead of 30 percent, as would have been the proposed retrofit, doesn’t make this current proposal acceptable,” Sanders said. “Any personal increase is still outrageous when there are better options out there. This is not a reasonable price for customers. These rates are neither fair nor just given than this is not the least-cost option, especially looking long term.”
The Public Service Commission also hosted a public hearing in the Big Sandy region last week, and will hold a formal evidentiary hearing on the proposal on May 29 at the PSC offices in Frankfort. That hearing is open to the public, and can also be viewed live on the PSC website.
Anyone wishing to make a comment on the proposal can still do so up to the conclusion of the next hearing. They may be mailed to the PSC at P.O. Box 615, Frankfort, KY 40602, faxed to 502-564-9625, emailed from the PSC website or submitted in person at the public meetings or at the PSC offices.