Climate Change and Energy Transitions

The Lexington Herald-Leader’s Andy Mead reported Friday on the Governor’s recently convened Kentucky Climate Action Plan Council, which consists of representatives from government agencies, industry and business, and the non-profit sector. Justin Maxson, President of MACED, is the only member of the newly formed Kentucky Sustainable Energy Alliance (KySEA) invited to participate on the Council.

The Council’s stated goal is to “identify opportunities for Kentucky to respond to the challenge of global climate change while becoming more energy efficient, more energy independent and spurring economic growth.” In pursuit of this goal, the Council aims to present policy recommendations by the end of 2010.

Given Kentucky’s reliance on coal-fired electricity, there is a potential tension between current coal-based generation and recommendations the Council may make to move towards less carbon-intensive electricity sources.

This energy transition is a move President Obama has advocated for, most recently in Friday’s speech in Baltimore, as reported by Ken Ward. Speaking explicitly about West Virginia, President Obama said:

And I know that West Virginia struggles with unemployment. And I know how important coal is to West Virginia and a lot of the natural resources there. That’s part of the reason why I’ve said that we need a comprehensive energy policy that sets us up for a long-term future.

This transition is not likely to be an easy one. NPR’s Christopher Joyce reports in “The Future of Coal Will Require Hard Choices” the challenges facing a transition from current coal technologies to a lower carbon future.

The Louisville Courier-Journal’s James Bruggers reports that Kentucky state officials are exploring 42 sites for potential nuclear facilities, in the event that the legislature lifts a 26-year old moratorium on nuclear power. The bill has cleared the Kentucky Senate and is currently before a House committee. Despite the Beshear Administration’s support for expanded nuclear-generating capacity, many challenges, including the issue of waste disposal, persist. John Whitehead details his concerns about the hurdles nuclear power will face in Kentucky, while interpreting the fact that a nuclear option is being discussed in earnest in a coal state as an encouraging sign of action on the climate change issue.

It is exactly this sort of balancing act that the nascent Climate Action Plan Council will need to face. Given the scale of challenges– economic, social and environmental—that hang in the balance the ability to examine policy options and propose solutions in a transparent, public manner will be of the utmost importance to Kentucky’s future.

Kristin Tracz

About Kristin Tracz

Kristin Tracz served MACED’s Research and Policy team from 2009-2012 working on clean energy policy, energy efficiency programs and the Appalachian Transition Initiative. She joined MACED after finishing her Master of Environmental Management degree at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. She now lives and works in Washington, DC.