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Environment Local News

LG&E Outlines Potential Rate Increases to Metro Council

Electricity rates will be going up, but no one yet is sure exactly how much. Power company officials testified before a Metro Council committee today about the effect environmental regulations will have on ratepayers.

There are a host of federal air regulations that have been issued this year or are expected soon. Combined with a rule from the Environmental Protection Agency governing the handling of coal ash, compliance will cost Louisville Gas & Electric, and by extension, their ratepayers.

LG&E filed for a 19 percent increase over the next four years with the Kentucky Public Service Commission in June. But this increase just covers environmental upgrades at Mill Creek and Trimble County power plants.

As far as the plant at Cane Run, or Kentucky Utility’s plants at Green River or Tyrone are concerned, they could add more to the cost. LG&E’s John Voyles says the company sent out requests for proposal to weigh its options for replacing those units.

“We’re comparing our build costs to buying power to buying already-built plants and trying to assemble the least cost way to replace that energy,” he said.

Voyles told committee members that LG&E has a double mandate: to generate electricity, and to provide it as cheaply as possible. Councilman Brent Ackerson raised concerns that switching to natural gas may hurt Kentucky’s economy.

“My concern is, when we sit here and we talk today about natural gas and shipping it in from out of state, my concern is when you balance the two mandates, is there a collateral mandate in there that essentially we think about Kentucky’s future?” Ackerson asked.

He was told the decision is ultimately up to the PSC, but very few coal fired power plants have been permitted recently.

Depending on LG&E’s course of action, ratepayers could see their electricity bills increase by an additional five percent.

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Environment Local News

Metro Government Plans to Fine LG&E for Recent Coal Ash Releases

The Metro Air Pollution Control District says Louisville Gas & Electric will be penalized for clouds of coal ash that were released from a malfunctioning machine last week.

Residents living near the Cane Run Power Station reported seeing coal ash leaving the company’s landfill on Saturday, July 30. The company said the dust was caused by a mechanical error on their sludge processing plant–a machine that mixes coal ash with lime to create a cement-like material. Another release was documented last Thursday, as LG&E cleaned the machine in preparation for it to be fixed.

The notices of violation for these two incidents haven’t been issued yet, but APCD executive director Lauren Anderson said they will be soon.

At the same time, the district is still working with LG&E to resolve earlier complaints from Cane Run neighbors that coal ash has been contaminating their homes. Anderson says that in addition to a $4,000 fine, her staff has been meeting with LG&E to discuss remediation measures. She says those solutions may include greater communication with neighbors and the company washing nearby homes.

Besides removing coal ash from the houses, washing would also provide a baseline for future dust sampling, Anderson said. That future dust sampling is something LG&E and the Air Pollution Control District will be discussing this week.

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Environment Local News

LG&E Says Malfunctioning Machine at Cane Run Being Repaired

Louisville Gas & Electric says a piece of machinery that malfunctioned last weekend at their Cane Run Power Station should be up and running next week.

Residents complained after clouds of dust were visible above the plant’s landfill in southwest Louisville. They’ve documented instances of ash leaving the landfill and contaminating their property in the past.

The company took the sludge processing plant, which mixes coal ash with lime to create a cement-like material, out of commission. More dust was visible yesterday evening, but LG&E spokeswoman Chris Whelan says the dust was released in the process of cleaning and repairing the machine.

“We are going to install a fluidization system, but we had to get all the ash that was in there when we shut it off abruptly—we had to get that out of there before we could do the repairs,” she said.

Whelan says the machine should be fixed and functioning normally next week.

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Environment Local News

LG&E Fined by Metro Government for Coal Ash Contamination

A coal ash cloud forms above LG&E's Cane Run Power Station after an equipment malfunction Saturday evening. Photo by Greg Walker. Metro Government has fined Louisville Gas & Electric for letting coal ash leave the Cane Run Power Station and contaminate nearby homes.

Two weeks ago, LG&E released test results that found ash on three area homes. Now, the city has fined the company $4,000 for violating the district’s fugitive dust rule.

The Air Pollution Control District has already met with the company and will decide internally whether the fine is sufficient. APCD spokesman Matt Stull says there could be other penalties for the violation.

“There also might be steps that are taken in regard to remediating the situation and trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again in the future,” he said. “That’s a goal of the district, to try and not just punish a source but also to make sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen in the future.”

The case is complicated by a mechanical malfunction over the weekend that sent clouds of ash into the sky. The company shut down its sludge processing plant, which is a machine that mixes coal ash with lime to create a cement-like substance called Pozotec.

LG&E Spokeswoman Chris Whelan says the machine has been shut down indefinitely, and the company has formed a task force to determine the problem.

“We regret that there’s been any incident in that area,” she said. “The neighbors, we’re mindful of their concerns there and that’s the reason that we have assigned a task force to ensure that we get this equipment fixed and that we’re being a good neighbor.”

This new incident may be included in the previous complaint, which the APCD has done in the past.

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Environment In-Depth News Local News

The Coal Ash Series, In Full

You can’t see the smokestacks of the Cane Run Power Station from Stephanie Hogan’s home, even though she lives a block away. And while the power plant isn’t visible, it’s still a looming presence in Hogan’s life.

“Oh, he breathes so bad, he sounds like Darth Vader.” Hogan shakes her head, and her two-year-old son Cody wheezes. “You ain’t even been running.”

Audio MP3

The family bought their trailer near the Louisville Gas and Electric-operated power plant about 15 months ago, and since then, Cody has developed serious respiratory problems. Eventually, his mom took him to a specialist, who pinpointed the potential cause of Cody’s sickness.

“I think it was the second visit, she asked where we lived,” Hogan said. “And I told her, and she said ‘oh, you live next to that power plant. You need to move.’”

But Hogan can’t move. She’s trapped by her trailer’s low resale value, as well as her son’s rising medical expenses. Cody has asthma. He’s had tubes installed in his ears twice and three times he’s come down with an unexplained fever. Hogan estimates she spent nearly $4,000 in doctor’s visits and medication last year.

She says the culprit is coal ash: the sometimes-fine, sometimes-chunky material that’s leftover after coal is burned. It coats her porch, and she doesn’t let Cody play outside anymore, no matter how much he begs.

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Environment In-Depth News Local News Uncategorized

Coal Ash Scares, Sickens Southwest Louisville Neighborhood–Part Three

Kathy Little and Debbie Walker stand in Walker’s front yard, 50 feet from the ash landfill at Louisville Gas & Electric‘s Cane Run plant. They watch as heavy machinery backs up, pushing ash from one pile to another.

Both women have lived in the neighborhood for decades—Little for 33 years, Walker for 23. Walker says she used to be able to see Indiana from her window. Now, she just sees the mountains of coal ash.

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“That wasn’t here when we first moved here. If that was here when I first moved here, I wouldn’t have moved here,” she laughed. “There’s no way.”

Little and Walker both say the coal ash in their neighborhood has caused serious health problems. They’ve found ash on their homes, and sampling from the city and LG&E have confirmed its presence. And they’re angry. Little says she feels abandoned by federal and state regulators.

“I have nothing against coal, she said. “Don’t get me wrong—I don’t. The coal didn’t cause this situation. This private company caused this situation and Kentucky allowed them to do it. That’s who I blame.”

The women feel like there are no regulations in place. There are, but they’re not always easy to notice.

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Here and Now Local News

Today on Here and Now

Political negotiations over the long-term deficit cutting plan offered by the Gang of Six senators are on again today. So what’s on the chopping block? We dive into the details of proposed changes to programs like Social Security and Medicare, and proposed changes to tax benefits like the mortgage interest deduction which is worth $40 billion to the middle class.

A senior EU official said that fish populations are so depleted that when today’s children are adults, there may be no fish left to eat. Is farm fishing the answer? Farm fishing started in 1970s and it’s grown to the point where 90% of the Atlantic salmon we eat comes from farms. But there are drawbacks: pollution, antibiotic use, and does the fish taste good? We’ll look for the answers.

And we’ll also hear the second part of our series on coal ash, and talk with WFPL’s Erica Peterson about what to expect in part three.

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Environment In-Depth News Local News

Coal Ash Scares, Sickens Southwest Louisville Neighborhood—Part Two

Smokestacks rise above LG&E's Cane Run Power Station. “Okay, here’s our ash pond!” Steve Turner exclaims. He’s the general manager at Louisville Gas & Electric’s Cane Run Power Station, and he is giving Kathy Little and her husband Tony a tour of the plant.

“You can see bottom ash, but it’s down at the water level, so it stays wetted.”

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Cane Run is one of the two coal-fired power plants within the Louisville city limits, and both store byproducts, like coal ash, on site. LG&E has invited three nearby families to the plant to discuss the results of recent dust sampling. The Little family, as well as the Walkers and the Cunninghams, were invited because samples taken off their homes showed high concentrations of coal ash. LG&E is doing damage control.

Turner stands in a conference room in front of a PowerPoint presentation about the company’s operation.

“So to get started, this is the Cane Run site,” he said. “We are a generating facility. We generate electricity. And we do that safely, reliably and while complying with all of our environmental permits.”

But the people in the room want to talk about the ash. The first samples taken directly off their homes show alarmingly high amounts of fly ash. But the second set, gathered from the air, shows much lower levels. As Turner speaks, Debbie Walker shakes her head. She looks disgusted.

Categories
Here and Now

Today on Here and Now

Thirteen days remain until August 2, the date after which the US will default on debt payments. The so-called “Gang of Six” deficit-reduction plan that emerged on Capitol Hill yesterday is gaining steam. We’ll ask if they can reach a deal on time.

Around 5.6 million mothers stay at home, and for many, getting back into the workforce is a struggle because employers balk at gaps on resumes. Returnships might help. Sometimes paid, sometimes not – they help get people back into the workforce.

Coal ash is raising health and environmental concerns for residents in southwest Louisville. We’ll have the first of a three-part series on this byproduct of burning coal.

And ten days ago, Donnie Rickelman of Linton, Indiana underwent a hand transplant at Louisville’s Jewish Hospital. He’s the seventh recipient of a new hand under the transplant program launched in 1999 in conjunction with the University of Louisville. We’ll talk with Rickleman about his progress.

Categories
Environment

Coal Ash Scares, Sickens Southwest Louisville Neighborhood–Part One

A view of the coal ash landfill, from the top of LG&E's Cane Run Power StationYou can’t see the smokestacks of the Cane Run Power Station from Stephanie Hogan’s home, even though she lives a block away. And while the power plant isn’t visible, it’s still a looming presence in Hogan’s life.

“Oh, he breathes so bad, he sounds like Darth Vader.” Hogan shakes her head, and Cody wheezes. “You ain’t even been running.”

Audio MP3

The family bought their trailer near the Louisville Gas and Electric-operated power plant about 15 months ago, and since then, Cody has developed serious respiratory problems. Eventually, his mom took him to a specialist, who pinpointed the potential cause of Cody’s sickness.

“I think it was the second visit, she asked where we lived,” Hogan said. “And I told her, and she said ‘Oh, you live next to that power plant. You need to move.’”

But Hogan can’t move. She’s trapped by her trailer’s low resale value, as well as her son’s rising medical expenses. Cody has asthma. He’s had tubes installed in his ears twice and three times he’s come down with an unexplained fever. Hogan estimates she spent nearly $4,000 in doctor’s visits and medication last year.

She says the culprit is coal ash: the sometimes-fine, sometimes-chunky material that’s leftover after coal is burned. It coats her porch, and she doesn’t let Cody play outside anymore, no matter how much he begs.