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AEP to Reconsider Alternatives to Coal at Eastern Kentucky Plant

Big Sandy PowerplantAmerican Electric Power may have changed its mind about the future of the coal-fired Big Sandy Power Plant in Eastern Kentucky. The company has an application pending with the Kentucky Public Service Commission to install pollution controls at the plant to continue burning coal. But WFPL has learned that AEP filed to withdraw the application today.

Now, instead of moving ahead with the retrofit of the Big Sandy plant, the company plans to re-evaluate alternatives to comply with upcoming air pollution standards.

Spokesman Ronn Robinson said the company made the decision to reconsider alternatives to coal because outlooks suggest more energy capacity in the market in the next few years. “We will look at everything again,” he said. “We will look at the continued use of coal, the scrubber may stay an option, we will look at gas, we will do a total review, in light of the new energy landscape to make the decision that’s in the best interest of our customers and ratepayers.”

Earthjustice attorney Shannon Fisk represented environmental groups that intervened in the case, arguing that it would be more cost-effective to replace the plant’s capacity with a mix of other natural gas, renewable energy and efficiency measures.

Fisk called AEP’s application withdrawal a victory for both the environment and ratepayers, and said it’s a move that he hopes will be noticed around the country.

“It’s clearly not economic to retrofit this coal plant in the heart of coal country,” he said. “And that really sends a message for coal plants throughout the country, if it’s not even economic to do it in Kentucky, it’s certainly not economic to be spending hundreds of millions, even a billion dollars on aging coal infrastructure like Ohio and Michigan and Tennessee.”

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MSHA Releases Report Into Death of Two Killed in 2011 Ohio County Mine Accident

Last year, 21 coal miners died in mining accidents, and eight of them were in Kentucky. I’ve reported on many of these deaths on our website and on the air, but most only after the fact. Two of these mine deaths—the deaths of 47-year-old Darrel Alan Winstead and Samual Joe Lindsey, 23—in a roof fall at an Ohio County mine were reported nearly real-time, as rescuers worked to uncover the men. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration released its report into the deaths today.

Winstead and Lindsey were blasters employed by the Mine Equipment and Mill Supply Company, or Memsco. They were working at the Equality Mine, a surface mine owned by Armstrong Coal Company. It was their job to place explosives and detonate them to uncover coal seams, but early in the morning of October 28, 2011, a wall in the mine collapsed and buried the two men in their truck.

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LG&E Plans Wall to Maximize Capacity of Ash Landfill at Cane Run

Louisville Gas and Electric has begun building a wall near its coal ash landfill at Cane Run.

The wall will be made substantially out of the same material the landfill is: a mixture of flue gas desulfurization sludge and coal ash that’s concrete-like. Right now the company’s landfill resembles gently-sloping mountains. But after the wall is built, it will allow the company to fill in the ash at a near-vertical slope, and fit more ash in the landfill.

The wall won’t expand the landfill either horizontally or vertically, and permits don’t specify a certain volume for the landfill. In an email, Solid Waste Branch Manager Ron Gruzesky said: “After an examination of the governing regulation, the DWM determined that this interior wall did not qualify as a permit modification. Therefore there is nothing to approve, and no public notice requirement.”

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MSHA Targets 43 Former Massey Mines in Huge Inspection Blitz

The Mine Safety and Health Administration targeted 43 mines formerly owned by Massey Energy for surprise inspections this week, as NPR’s Howard Berkes reports. The mines, in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, are all now owned by Alpha Natural Resources.

Berkes reports that the inspection blitz was prompted by a recent incident at an Alpha mine in Wyoming County, WV.

A source familiar with the inspections says they were focused on conveyor belts used to transport coal underground. The source is not authorized to discuss the inspections publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

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EPA Hears Testimony on New Carbon Pollution Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency is in the midst of day-long hearings in Washington, D.C. and Chicago on proposed new standards from carbon pollution from power plants.

The speaking lists for both hearings were already near full before they began. The slots were first come, first served, and environmental groups snagged many of them. Representatives from the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, as well as local environmental groups are scheduled to speak at both events. But the industries are represented too, with speakers from the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Mining Association and various trade groups.

The EPA’s proposed rule would only apply to new power plants, and would limit these plants to 1,000 pounds of carbon pollution per megawatt hour.

Under the rule, coal-fired power plants can still be built. But because of the new limits on carbon dioxide, any company interested in building a coal-fired power plant would be required to install advanced carbon control technologies, like carbon capture and sequestration.

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EPA Raises Concerns About LG&E Plan For Trimble County Coal Ash Landfill

The Environmental Protection Agency has concerns about the environmental impact of a 218-acre coal ash landfill in Trimble County proposed by Louisville Gas and Electric.

LG&E is asking for permission to construct the landfill near its Trimble County power plant. If it’s permitted, the site will store coal ash—the waste that’s leftover after coal is burned. The company currently stores the Trimble County plant’s ash in an impoundment pond, but the pond is getting full and the company needs to find somewhere else to store the ash.

The EPA’s Region 4 office sent a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers yesterday, outlining its opposition to the project. In the letter, the EPA raises issues with the landfill’s affect on more than 54,000 feet of ecologically-sensitive streams and an acre of wetlands.

EPA Region 4 Administrator Gwen Keyes-Fleming also suggests LG&E may have overestimated the coal ash it will need to store in the landfill. In the letter, Keyes-Fleming says LG&E officials have indicated they plan to re-use some of the coal ash, but didn’t take that into account in the calculations of the landfill’s volume. She suggests a smaller landfill would have less effect on the environment.

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Energy Talk Rescheduled

Former Assistant Secretary for Policy in the U.S. Department of Energy Sue Tierney was scheduled to speak in Louisville tonight at 6:30, but bad weather on the east coast has forced a cancellation.

I spoke with Tierney last week about sustainable energy, as well as coal’s future in the United States’ energy mix and differences between Chinese and American energy policies.

The talk is sponsored by the World Affairs Council, and the group plans to reschedule Tierney’s talk as soon as possible.

 

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Facing Federal Action, Kentucky Moves to Increase Reclamation Bonds for Surface Mines

Coal companies will have to pay more to mine coal in Kentucky under new regulations issued by the Energy and Environment cabinet. The state took action after the federal government threatened to take over the state’s surface mining program.

When companies begin mining, they’re required to give the state a bond that will only be returned if the company reclaims—or restores—the land. If the company doesn’t act or goes bankrupt, the state uses the bond to restore the land itself.

But Kentucky’s bond amounts haven’t increased in more than twenty years, and the federal government said the funds were inadequate for the work that needed to be done. Office of Surface Mining Director Joe Pizarchik sent the state a letter last week, threatening to take over the state surface mining program if the bond rates weren’t increased.

OSM spokesman Chris Holmes says an increase is crucial, because reclamation costs have risen with inflation. Without an increase in the bonds, Kentucky wouldn’t be able to reclaim the land as the law requires.

“And if that were to happen, someone would have to pick up the bill and the people picking up the bill would be Kentuckians,” Holmes said. “So that is why we are encouraging Kentucky to find a Kentucky solution.”

Since 1996, OSM has identified 266 permits that have been forfeited, meaning the too-small bonds will be used to do what they can to reclaim those mine sites.

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Kentucky Approves LG&E Proposal for Gas Plant at Cane Run

Louisville Gas and Electric has secured state approval to build natural gas turbines at its Cane Run Power Station. The Kentucky Public Service Commission issued its ruling today.

The ruling will allow LG&E to build a 640 megawatt natural gas power plant at the current site of the coal-fired Cane Run Power Station, which is set to be retired by 2016. The company will also buy existing gas generation in Oldham County, if it gets approval for the project from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Environmental groups intervened in the case, arguing that LG&E should examine sources other than gas to meet the area’s energy demand—like renewable sources and efficiency measures. In the order, the commissioners disagreed, but did require the company to commission a study to determine what energy savings can be achieved through efficiency programs.

Earthjustice attorney Shannon Fisk was co-counsel for the environmental interveners. He says even though the application was granted, the efficiency study “is real progress that will hopefully save customers money and also be beneficial to the environment,” he said.

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PSC Approves LG&E Proposal for Gas Plant at Cane Run

The PSC has approved Louisville Gas and Electric’s application to construct a 640 megawatt natural gas power plant at the current site of the gas-fired Cane Run Power Station. The company will also buy existing gas generation in Oldham County.

The company already had approval to retire Cane Run, as well as two other coal-fired power plants. The PSC heard the case to add the gas turbines in March. The proposal was opposed by environmental groups, which argued the generation capacity could be replaced with renewable sources and energy efficiency measures.

LG&E estimates the nearly $700 million project won’t raise LG&E customers’ rates. Because they’re estimated to use a large share of the power, the project will raise rates about 4 percent for Kentucky Utilities customers. But previously-approved environmental upgrades to two of LG&E’s coal-fired plants–Mill Creek and Trimble County–are expected to raise LG&E rates 18 percent by 2016.

Will be updated.