A Kentucky strip coal mine. | Photo via Creative Commons

By Bill Estep | Lexington Herald-Leader

Greater emphasis on energy efficiency and on producing electricity from renewable sources would create thousands of jobs in Kentucky, reduce electricity bills and help improve the health of residents by cutting pollution, according to a report by a social-justice organization.

Other recommendations in the report from the liberal-leaning Kentuckians for the Commonwealth include taxing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants to discourage use of coal and natural gas while generating money to invest in efficiency programs, such as weatherizing homes.

“It delivers lower bills, more jobs, better health” than continuing on the state’s current path, Chris Woolery, a KFTC member who retrofits homes to improve energy efficiency, said during a call to announce the plan.

KFTC released the plan Wednesday but acknowledged that there appeared to be “few opportunities and little support” among lawmakers in Kentucky and Washington, D.C., for the type of approach it proposes.

Since the organization started working on the plan in 2015, Republicans friendly to the coal and natural gas industries won control in Frankfort and Washington.

President Donald Trump moved quickly to roll back a rule put forth in the Obama Administration to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.

The country “is on the verge of lurching backwards on clean energy and climate commitments, a possibility that poses grave risks for our economy, health and climate,” KFTC said in its report.

Still, the organization said it would continue pushing for a transition to a clean-energy economy that is fair to everyone and would look for ways to put pieces of its proposal, called the Empower Kentucky plan, into place at the local level.

“The plan provides a framework for us to do powerful organizing work,” Woolery said.

The plan grew out of a federal rule called the Clean Power Plan, which would have required significant cuts in carbon emissions from power plants.

Most scientists studying the issue say the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is driving climate change that causes drought, increases the severity of storms and threatens a catastrophic rise in sea levels, among other problems.

Kentucky would have been required to reduce carbon emissions from power plants by more than 30 percent under the rule. It would have been difficult for many coal-fired plants to meet the new limits, raising concerns in Kentucky and elsewhere that the rule would undermine demand for coal.

A court challenge stymied the rule before Trump signed an executive order to back away from it.

However, KFTC had started the work of coming up with that it calls a “people’s energy plan” after state leaders balked at the EPA’s rule.

The organization said it held meetings across the state and directly involved more than 1,200 people to find out what they wanted in an energy plan.

It also hired a Massachusetts consultant called Synapse Energy Economics to analyze the impact of the plan.

The proposal includes a call for Kentucky to reduce electricity demand by 17 percent by 2032; a requirement that the state get 25 percent of its electricity from renewable sources such as solar or wind power by 2032; a requirement for utilities to increase their energy efficiency programs, prioritizing help for low-income people; and a tax on the power sector of $1 per short ton of carbon emitted, and on the carbon content of electricity imported to the state, rising in increments to $3 over 15 years.

The money from the tax would be used to pay for energy-efficiency programs.

The analysis by Synapse estimated that compared to a “business as usual” scenario, with no major changes in state policy, energy efficiency or use of renewable energy, the Empower Kentucky plan would create 46,300 more job years — defined as a full-time job that last at least a year — between 2018 and 2032, slash carbon emissions by 40 percent and reduce average residential electricity bills by 10 percent.

Many of the jobs would be in work to make homes more energy efficient through measures such as installing insulation and caulking to seal off cracks.

The analysis assumed all states will meet the cuts in carbon emissions mandated in the Clean Power Plan. The results of the analysis could be different without that in place.

The overall “system cost” of providing electricity under the plan would be 7 percent greater under the plan, but average monthly bills would still be lower because of energy efficiency savings, Synapse estimated.

Read more of this story on the Herald-Leader’s website.