Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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December 3, 2013

Meeting with Grimes

Workers talk over Big Sandy plant concerns

LOUISA — A number of workers and union representatives met with U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes Monday to share their worries about the impending closure of American Electric Power’s Big Sandy Power Plant and its effect on the region.

The workers met with Grimes during a swing through northeast Kentucky that included stops in Ashland and Olive Hill.

Workers who were there got a chance to talk to Grimes about the human cost of closing the plant, according to Daven Copeland, who was laid off from his contract job at the plant on Wednesday.

“The meeting was productive. She did more listening than talking. She asked about families and how they are impacted,” Copeland said.

Copeland said the work he has done at the plant over the years since 2002 allowed him to build a life and a home in the Grayson area, to marry and start a family there. Closing the plant will shrink his work opportunities and he is more likely to have to travel out of the area for work, he thinks.

Louisa and Lawrence County already are bracing for a heavy economic blow, but surrounding communities also will suffer, and that is what workers wanted Grimes to understand, according to Don Sammons, who lives in the Grayson area. “The big thing is that it is going to be devastating to the tax base in Lawrence County, but it will hurt a lot of the surrounding communities as well,” he said.

Workers were able to add significant depth to Grimes’ understanding of the trickle-down effect on the local economy, like the $100 lunch orders workers typically place at local restaurants, Copeland said.

“Ms. Grimes seemed very concerned about the workers and the loss of tax base and the effect on education in Lawrence County,” said Anthony Holbrook, business representative for the Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters. Grimes was receptive to workers’ ideas on trying to change closure plans, said Holbrook, a millwright by trade.

Currently AEP is planning to close the larger of two units at the plant by 2015 and convert the other to burn natural gas.

Workers want officials to continue pressing for retrofitting to burn clean coal mined in eastern Kentucky, he said. “She was very interested in that and seemed open to it,” he said.

Closure appears to be all but certain, but workers aren’t ready to accept that, and want their next senator to take the same position, Holbrook said. “We want the plant to keep operating. We don’t want to buy power from Ohio or West Virginia. I’ll hold out hope until I actually see them tear down that 800 megawatt unit,” he said.

The factfinding swing allowed her to hear “from the people who are affected the most,” Grimes said during a Monday meeting with members of The Independent’s editorial board.

AEP should have elected to install scrubbers and continue to burn coal at the Big Sandy plant, she said. Retrofitting for natural gas eliminates jobs, particularly coal jobs, she said.

Grimes said she intends to launch a jobs plan early in 2014 that preserves Kentucky jobs. She also called for hiking the minimum wage.

“I am the pro-coal candidate and at the end of this I will be the pro-coal senator.” She called for a national energy policy that acknowledges the importance of coal. “It does keep the lights on in Kentucky. It’s not just an energy issue but an economic issue.”

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.

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