Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

May 2, 2013

Chance to speak

Area leaders should attend hearings on Big Sandy plant

The Independent

ASHLAND — It is unlikely public meetings the Kentucky Public Service Commission has scheduled for May 14 in Louisa and May 15 in Whitesburg and Hazard will have any impact on Kentucky Power Co.’s plans to retire at least one of the two generators at the Big Sandy Power Plant near Louisa in 2013. But it may be the last chance for this region’s elected leasers, civic and economic development leaders and ordinary citizens to express their concerns about the tremendous economic impact the closing or downsizing of the coal-fired plant will have on the economy, not just of Louisa and Lawrence County, but of the entire region.

It is not just that the power plant has for many years provided some of the best paying and most stable industrial jobs in Lawrence County, but the Big Sandy plant also has indirectly provided hundreds good paying jobs throughout eastern Kentucky through the miners who extract that coal and through the truckers who transport from the mines to the Big Sandy plant. With more than 4,000 coal mining jobs already having been eliminated in eastern Kentucky, the closing of the power plant promises to have a “ripple” effect in this region’s economy that could turn into an economic tidal wave.

But Kentucky Power Co. officials already know this. About the only way members of the Public Service Commission are likely to decide to not approve Kentucky Power’s plan to retire the Big Sandy plant is for opponents of the power company’s plans to come up with a new approach that would be as financially feasible as what Kentucky Power is proposing.

That may not be possible. Kentucky Power is seeking the PSC’s approval to purchase a 50 percent interest in Ohio Power Co.’s Mitchell power plant south of Moundsville, W.Va. Kentucky Power says in its application the purchase price of $536 million would be more than $404 million less than upgrading Big Sandy to meet stricter federal air quality standards. Both units burn coal, but the PSC says in a news release the Mitchell plant has the equipment needed to comply with the new regulations.

We’re journalists, not engineers. We lack the knowledge and skills to come up with an alternative that would make upgrading the Big Sandy Plant a more viable alternative. If no one can come up with such an alternative plan, the Big Sandy plant may be doomed, and this region should be prepared to take  a huge economic punch.

But even if they can’t offer a better suggestion to the PSC and to Kentucky Power, we encourage area residents to attend the meetings on May 14 and 15 in large numbers just to let the PSC and Kentucky Power know they do not want to see the demise of the Big Sandy Power Plant. Shutting down the plant may be a good business decision for Kentucky Power and maybe even for the environment, but it is a horrible decision for this region’s economy.