KSEC hosts Lexington, Ky., senator on energy efficiency, renewable energy tour

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From L to R: Cara Cooper (KSEC), Molly Braden (KSEC), Kathy Mowery (Murry, Ky., homeowner), Sen. Reggie Thomas

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest blog post from a guest blogger. The views and opinions expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Renew Appalachia or of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED).

It is an exciting time to be working for change in Kentucky. With the flurry of activity from the Just Transition Movement, and the growing momentum for renewables and energy efficiency that we’ve seen in our communities AND in the halls of Frankfort, it really feels like a pivotal moment in our history. The members of the KY Student Environmental Coalition are stoked to play our role in these efforts.

Last week, we hosted Lexington Senator Reggie Thomas on a tour of how energy efficiency and renewable energy are already making a huge difference in the lives of Kentuckians, and spurring economic growth in the Western region of our state. We also wanted to discuss strategy for getting the Clean Energy Opportunity Act into the state Senate next year. Folks who are lucky enough to live in the Tennessee Valley Authority’s utility region have access to many of the incentives that the CEOA would provide for the rest of us, so it seemed like a good place to take Senator Thomas to see what Kentucky’s energy future could look like. What we found was both exciting and inspiring, but perhaps the most exciting part of the day was realizing that there are at least some legislators in this state that are dedicated to doing what is right: helping to transition our economy and our energy portfolio.

Senator Thomas got up at 4:00am to drive four hours to get to Murray, Ky., and spent the entire day shuffling around town with us to learn about TVA’s incentives, meet local renewable energy business owners, see solar installations at businesses and on homes, and tour a manufacturing company’s energy efficient window production. And even though we were all exhausted, he still came to our community potluck to mingle with local folks and break bread with us before getting back in his car and making the trip home.

One of the highlights of the day for me (other than seeing the huge solar installations that were paying themselves back in just a few years!) was when I got a moment to have some real talk with Senator Thomas about youth voter turnout. I work with young people from across the Commonwealth and have been engaging in get-out-the-vote work on college campuses since 2010, so I have a bit of insight into what many perceive as apathy amongst the folks in my generation.

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From L to R: Mowery, Sen. Thomas, Paul Key (Sunway Energy Solutions), Braden

While Sen. Thomas thought that online voting would be the solution we need to turn out youth voters, I was quick to point out that a much bigger change is needed to inspire my generation to cast their vote. It is not entirely a question of access to the voting process, but much more a question of access to candidates who are inspiring.

He seemed surprised when I told him that what it will take to move us to the ballot box is to have candidates who are willing to be bold and to take hard stances on doing what is right for our future. We are not inspired by candidates who are scared, or by candidates who share the same tired lines about protecting corporate interests over the needs of our people. Furthermore, it is irritating that there seems to be no difference in candidates’ stances on environmental and social justice issues regardless of party affiliation. I hope that this message makes it back to Frankfort and that we can have more legislators – like Senator Thomas – who are willing to act in the name of our future.

Last legislative session we saw a lot of new co­sponsors for the Clean Energy Opportunity Act in the Kentucky House, even in the face of a short legislative session and terrible weather. This is an indicator that maybe there are other legislators who want to be bold, but I believe they need to hear from their constituents to know they have our support. KSEC looks forward to working with our legislators across the state to continue this conversation over the summer and into the fall, and to continue to build momentum to pass meaningful legislation that will create green jobs and a healthier future for our communities.

We are also extremely proud to have found the first Senate sponsor for this bill and are excited to take on the challenge of bringing our Senators on board (one by one, if that is what it takes), because we are committed to the future of Kentucky, and committed to building a Kentucky that we can stay and thrive in after college graduation.

Please take a moment to thank Sen. Thomas for his commitment to an energy future that we can be proud of and let your legislators know that they should get on board. We do have the power to make a difference – in fact, we already are.

Cara Cooper

About Cara Cooper

Cara Cooper is the state organizer for the KY Student Environmental Coalition and gets the amazing privilege to help young Kentuckians get access to skills and resources to create a better future for themselves in the Commonwealth. Cara has a graduate degree in Environmental Science from Florida International University and has been organizing with young people since 2008. Cara lives in Lexington with her partner, kitties, and backyard chickens and in her (very little spare time) likes to garden, hike, and learn new skills.