Predicting the future of energy is trickier than filling in the brackets for the college basketball tournaments.
And the stakes are much higher, because what we do about energy will affect our wallets and every part of our daily lives.
In November, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear entered this important and difficult arena by releasing a report that sets out the energy ideas he says we should be thinking about now, so we can put them into use by the year 2025.
Governor Beshear believes that Kentucky must act now to make a bold effort to do things differently. In a speech delivered one year ago this month, the governor said, “Kentucky can be a national leader in energy technology and production. We can help the country move toward greater energy self-reliance.”
But how will we change from the old familiar ways that depend so heavily on coal and other fossil fuels?
Kentucky is the third largest producer of coal in the United States. The coal industry is a major employer within the state. Exporting coal to other states is a major sector of our state’s economy. Within Kentucky, coal-fired plants generate more than 90 percent of our electricity.
During the winter months, many of us use natural gas to heat our homes and businesses. During our hot, humid summers, utilities use a lot of natural gas to generate electricity.
Year-round, Kentuckians also depend on petroleum-based fuels for our cars and trucks and farm machinery. About 60 percent of that fuel is imported from foreign suppliers.
What can we do differently to meet our energy needs? How long will it take to achieve results with new technology?
A big booklet
The answers to these questions are long and complicated. So is the governor’s report on energy.
The 144-page booklet called Intelligent Energy Choices for Kentucky’s Future has an even longer subtitle: Kentucky’s 7-point Strategy for Energy Independence.
Many simply call it the Governor’s Energy Plan.
Leonard Peters, secretary of Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet, who played a key role in developing the report, says, “There is no single answer to solving and addressing our energy challenges today. It will take a multitude of approaches—be it coal, biofuels, or energy efficiency—and whatever we do will take multiple solutions.”
The seven energy ideas highlighted in the Governor’s Energy Plan are: energy efficiency, renewable energy, biofuels, coal-to-liquid fuels, synthetic gas (made from coal), carbon capture for electricity generating plants, and the feasibility of nuclear power.
That’s a long list of prospects.
The list of goals is long, too. The report says, “Kentucky’s challenge for the 21st century is to develop clean, reliable, affordable energy sources that will improve our energy security, reduce our carbon dioxide emissions, and provide economic prosperity.”
The phrases “affordable energy” and “economic prosperity” are key factors that must be considered as we look at the future.
The report cites statistics showing that if Kentucky just keeps on doing things as usual, our state’s use of all forms of energy could increase by 40 percent by the year 2025. We’ll have to buy a lot of barrels of crude oil from foreign sellers, bring in a lot of natural gas from other states, and burn a lot more coal if we don’t make some changes.
The report also makes it clear that each of these old ways of providing energy is likely to cost a lot more than it does today. Some of the higher costs will be due to higher expenses to comply with expected new rules and regulations, many of which will be set by federal policy decisions made in Washington. Some of the higher costs will be due to changes in world supply markets.
Doing things the old way will be expensive.
But doing things in new ways will be expensive, too.
Send in your comments
Inventing new procedures, testing them in laboratories, then trying them in real-world situations takes money. Making new devices and building new things such as distribution networks takes money. Even repairing and replacing old things with newer, more efficient things takes money.
During the last 10 years, the Kentucky Legislature passed many laws that describe new energy standards, goals, and procedures. Included in some of these laws are details about how much money from various taxes and fees will be spent on energy projects. Some of the money pays for research. Some of the money shifts costs from one area to another through the use of tax credits. A 14-page list of Kentucky’s existing energy laws is included in the new energy report for reference.
Secretary Peters points out that the 16 years between now and 2025 are far beyond one governor’s or one state senator’s term of office.
Peters says, “In choosing the year 2025—less than two decades away—we wanted to demonstrate the urgency. We don’t have 40 years to wait. Those of us who already have grandchildren can’t get energy matters off our plate and just let them deal with it later. We really need to get something done now.”
So to keep the plan moving past his term in office, Governor Beshear hopes Kentuckians of all sorts will read the report and send in their comments.
Peters says, “Substantially more feedback about the report is coming from people who are outside state government than from within–and that is what we want. State government is the vehicle to help push Kentucky forward, but this report is really to help the citizens and businesses of this state.”
You can send your ideas in a letter to the Kentucky Department for Energy Development and Independence at 500 Mero Street, 12th Floor, Capital Plaza Tower, Frankfort, KY 40601, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone (800) 282-0868.
READING THE GOVERNOR’S ENERGY PLAN
The governor’s new energy plan is available in three formats. You can read it online, use a CD, or look at a traditional printed booklet.
To view the report on your computer, go to Governor’s Energy Report
The full report is 144 pages long, but you can easily skip around to any section. You’ll probably want to begin with the Foreword by Governor Beshear and Secretary Peters. Then try the Executive Summary or the Introduction before jumping into one of the seven sections.
If you’re more comfortable with reading a printed booklet, ask for it at your local library or request a copy of the report by calling, toll-free within Kentucky, (800) 282-0868. You can also request a CD to view on a computer.
A notice at the Kentucky Department for Energy Development and Independence Web site also invites comments about the report from the public. Send your ideas in a letter to the department at 500 Mero Street, 12th Floor, Capital Plaza Tower, Frankfort, KY 40601, send an e-mail to email@example.com, or phone (800) 282-0868.
SEVEN ENERGY IDEAS
Here are the seven strategies outlined in the energy study recently published by Kentucky’s state government:
1. Improve the energy efficiency of Kentucky’s homes, buildings, industries, and transportation fleet
2. Increase Kentucky’s use of renewable energy
3. Sustainably grow Kentucky production of biofuels
4. Develop a coal-to-liquids industry in Kentucky to replace petroleum-based liquids
5. Implement a major and comprehensive effort to increase gas supplies, including coal-to-gas in Kentucky
6. Initiate aggressive carbon capture/sequestration (CCS) projects for coal-generated electricity in Kentucky
7. Examine the use of nuclear power for electricity generation in Kentucky