Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Moving Away From Fossil Fuels In The Bluegrass

Not being from Texas my interests in energy policy extend beyond this state, and I have looked at the effects of changing energy systems and their effect on Kentucky which is my home. Kentucky's premier energy producing fuel is coal which according to employs 17,959 people in the state and produces more than 120 million tons of coal which is an export from the state. The state does possess some other energy resources but these are other carbon rich fuels and are much smaller or less conventional. Checking the National Renewable Energy website shows that Kentucky is not an ideal location for generation of power through solar, biomass, or wind technologies. From this information it looks like Kentucky is set to suffer greatly under any new policy to change away from fossil fuels.

There is one option that may serve to help Kentucky to in at least the short term support the states economy during a transition. If you are to check the Idaho National Labs Hydropower site and search the state of Kentucky there are multiple over 100 MW sites in the state for hydroelectric sites. These could produce alternate electricity for a very small part of the coal produced in Kentucky currently. There construction also would provide employment for people in the state during a transition but in the future other employment will need to be found for former miners. This transition though would be expensive as building large dams is not going to be cheap. There is also the environmental consequences of the construction of the dams, I am not aware of any migratory fish in the area but Kentucky river do contain many game fish which could be lost in this process.

From my searching a move away from fossil fuels will be a negative for Kentucky as the state is currently an energy producer but in a switch away from the fossil fuel regime they will suffer because their geography does not favor the publicly popular alternatives. This could lead to them becoming an energy importer. Even considering unpopular alternatives does not seem to support the transition helping the state, as the millions of tons of coal currently produced could not easily be offset by hydroelectric power. In a state with limited tourist appeal and few other resources this could be a great risk to the state economy perhaps more so than for Texas. Although Texas and California may face large losses from a transition away from fossil fuels they have other energy industries to fall back on. Kentucky and several of the other coal producing Appalachian states could in theory follow a similar path with hydroelectric power but there would likely be environmental resistance and legal challenges that would prevent this transition.


David Wogan said...

I think you bring up an important point. It's not apparent on first glance what the effect of carbon regulations or new renewable energy portfolio standards will be on all states, not just the ones poised to benefit immediately. States that lack abundant or reliable sunshine, wind or other resources are wary of these regulations because they'll be hit hardest. It's very easy to get excited about the prospect of creating clean energy all across the country, but there are definitely difficulties in making it work for everyone.

Chris Smith said...

Being a Texas-Kentuckian (I lived in Kentucky for about 6 years of my life and that is where my family currently lives) I was pleased to find a fellow Kentuckian blogging about energy issues for the state.

It is very important to point out that some states could be "losers" while other states are "winners" in a new cleaner energy economy. However, just b/c fossil-fuel producing states may lose that specific industry doesn't mean they can't be a major player in the new energy economy. Many new forms of power generation technologies require materials production that can occur anywhere. There are also great opportunities for improving new energy technologies through research and development. States that currently produce fossil fuels should begin to look at these new industries within the energy sector as opportunities and provide subsidies for production plants, R&D, and related businesses to draw these industries to their states.

TravisR said...


Always good to find another Kentuckian out and about. My family is still there as well and I hope to return at some point.

Your right that we need to look to developing new energy technologies in Kentucky. The difficult part is how to make Kentucky a leader in that area of work. We do not have a large population of potential energy researchers or are we a center of venture capital. I think your right that our best bet in that arena is to try and become a center for manufacturing. The state is well placed for transportation by river, has low land costs, and has been attempting to be more business friendly.

David Wogan said...

Good point, Chris. So maybe areas of the country who don't directly benefit from the usage of renewable technologies could benefit by providing necessary R&D or even manufacturing... The return of American manufacturing?? :)

rossen said...
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rossen said...

Some wind turbine companies are already setting up manufacturing plants here, in the US. One example that I know if is the Spanish company GAMESA. As of 2005/2006 they have a facility that builds wind turbines for both, the American and world market,in Edensburg, Pennsylvania. These new "green collar" positions are filled by people who had previously lost their jobs when manufacturing was outsourced to Asia.

I first heard about this new GAMESA manufacturing plant on a History Channel show. I also found an article about it: