Last week, Louisville Public Media published an article on Kentucky Senate Bill 349, which characterized the legislation as “add[ing] more hurdles to utilities retiring fossil-fueled power plants.” However, the real purpose of SB 349 is simply to ensure that proper analysis is done before decisions are made by the Public Service Commission to allow the retirement of dependable electricity sources.

In response, our coalition sent a letter with several important clarifications to the article’s author, which we have shared below. We firmly support SB 349 and are grateful to Senator Mills, Senate President Stivers, and other sponsors for taking a much needed step to help ensure a reliable supply of electricity for the citizens of Kentucky. A press statement issued in support of the bill can be found here.

Subject: Response to your article on Kentucky SB 349

March 8, 2024

Dear Ms. Goodman:

We are writing to correct the record regarding three issues that were raised in your story “Kentucky Senate bill would add more hurdles to utilities retiring fossil-fueled power plants.” 

The first issue is the “restrictions” or “hurdles” that your story alleges Senate Bill 349 would create to the retirement of power plants that burn coal or natural gas.  Rather than restrict decision making, the bill would actually improve decision making by establishing a new commission to provide critical information and analysis to the Public Service Commission to assist the PSC in making sound decisions about approving or disapproving the closure of fossil-fuel power plants.  It is hard to see how more information to facilitate better decision making that keeps the lights on for Kentucky ratepayers is either a hurdle or a restriction.

The second issue is how your story characterized the effort to better define what counts as a “dispatchable” source of electricity.  This is important because dispatchable sources of electricity – such as coal and natural gas – can easily increase or decrease their electricity output to match the demand for electricity at any given time of the day.  On the other hand, intermittent sources of electricity, such as wind and solar, are not dispatchable electricity sources because their output is entirely dependent on the whether the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.   

While wind and solar have certain advantages, their overwhelming drawback is that they are not as dependable as coal and natural gas when electricity is in greatest demand.  The largest electric grid operator in the U.S., whose region includes part of Kentucky plus twelve other states, has determined that coal is three times more dependable than wind and six times more dependable than solar during times when electricity is needed most.  Across the regions most impacted when January’s winter storm peaked, coal and natural gas were able to increase their electricity output by 80 percent to keep homes warm, while wind and solar were able to provide only 10 percent of the additional electricity.  Better defining the term “dispatchable” is important to maintaining a healthy mix of resources to ensure the grid remains reliable.

The third issue is the discussion in the story about the bill’s requirement that a replacement power plant must be in operation before an existing plant can be shut down.  This requirement is essential to ensure an adequate supply of electricity, but the story seems to imply that this requirement is somehow bad or undesirable.  Retiring an existing plant before a new plant is operating would leave ratepayers exposed to the possibility, if not likelihood, of electricity shortages.  To use an analogy, if you decided to buy a new car wouldn’t you keep your current car until you actually have the new car?

Contrary to the implication of your story, Senate Bill 349 is good for Kentucky.

Katelyn Bunning, Executive Director, Dependable Power First Kentucky

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