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Answering Coal’s Tough Questions

Burning coal to make electricity is a good
idea.

You’d expect me to say that, since I edit
a magazine published by electric cooperative utilities. But reaching that conclusion
wasn’t easy: behind that opening sentence looms a difficult dilemma.

Burning coal causes pollution. On the other
hand, we all like to use electricity and we like it to cost as little as possible.
Coal can be cleaned up, and coal power plants emit a lot less pollution than they
used to. But that comes at a price. It all comes down to the question, "How
much will you pay for a clean environment?"

Too often people dodge the question by creating
heroes and villains. Rather than face the tough issues raised by that question,
it can be easier to label utilities and environmentalists as angels or devils,
depending on your biases.

Meanwhile, utilities and policy makers have
had to work through the mountain of details raised by that question. The answers
they have come up with so far have been a success story, especially in Kentucky.
The air is in fact getting cleaner. Electricity is more reliable than just about
any other product or service you use. And Kentucky, which gets almost all of its
electricity from coal, has the lowest electric rates in the nation.

Power plants can be made even cleaner, and
utilities are doing exactly that. In "The Future of Electricity" column
we’re in the midst of a series about coal’s role in our electric service and rates,
and the details involved in trying to strike a balance on environmental costs.

I believe we’ve got the balance about right.
And we’re heading in the right direction. But everyone will answer the question
differently. Please read these columns on coal, go to the other references we
list, and investigate your own sources of information.

Taking the best actions to protect both our
environment and our electric supply and rates will require as many people as possible
doing the hard work of studying and understanding the details of these difficult
energy decisions-whether we’re readers or editors of Kentucky Living magazine.

Paul Wesslund

Editor

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