A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand
FRANKFORT – Even before it became a state in 1792, Kentucky’s energy potential was well-known.
It all began in 1750, when Dr. Thomas Walker, one of Kentucky’s early explorers, discovered coal here, and our profile began expanding significantly 40 years later, when the first commercial coal mine opened in what is now Lee County.
Our contributions have only grown since then, of course. We are now third among the states in coal production, but we’re also pioneers in other ways, from building the nation’s first energy-neutral schools to leading the way in researching such areas as renewable energy and the next generation of batteries.
These facts and many more are now just a click away at the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet’s website (energy.ky.gov), which last month unveiled a virtual tour that spans two-plus centuries of milestones.
That timeline is poised to grow even more because of work that has been done just since the holidays. In December, for example, the state Public Service Commission approved a new 10-megawatt solar installation in Mercer County, the first of its kind for a utility in Kentucky.
Once complete, the $36 million operation will be able to power the equivalent of 8,000 homes and will complement similar solar installations being built and operated by the U.S. Army at Fort Knox and Fort Campbell.
Shortly after the cabinet’s timeline was introduced, Gov. Beshear announced that five businesses across the state, including Toyota, had achieved ENERGY-STAR certification, putting them in an elite group when it comes to energy conservation. Combined, these five manufacturers have cut back enough power to run 58,000 homes.
The ENERGY-STAR designation is growing increasingly common here in Kentucky. We have more than 270 schools that qualify, and a few weeks ago, Louisville moved up to 24th among the nation’s metro areas in the number of buildings meeting these guidelines. Elizabethtown/Fort Knox and Bowling Green, meanwhile, placed among the top five cities in their categories. All told, these three communities are home to 100 of these buildings.
During this year’s legislative session, the General Assembly voted overwhelmingly for two new energy-related laws that will help us build on these gains. The first updates Kentucky’s oil- and gas-drilling regulations for the first time in more than a generation, which will help Kentuckians be better prepared as we see a growing use of what is known as fracking, a process that taps natural gas and oil deep underground.
This law has the backing of both energy and environmental groups, and among other things, it calls on energy companies to notify nearby landowners of any planned fracking operations and to undertake baseline water testing.
It is worth noting that the Energy and Environment Cabinet announced early this month that, in the wake of this law, it is in the early stages of planning three meetings across the state to gauge public opinion about the expected growth of oil and gas production in Kentucky.
Although their market share here is smaller than coal, these two fossil fuels nonetheless bring in a considerable amount of money. Industry figures show that they generated more than $600 million in sales in 2013.
In the other new energy-related law this year, communities will now have a chance to help qualified business owners upgrade their older buildings by allowing these businesses to obtain financing that will be paid back through a voluntary assessment on their annual property taxes. More than 30 states have passed similar laws, and during testimony on the bill, it was reported that Fifth Third Bank has set aside $200 million for this program nationally.
In addition to this new legislation, the General Assembly also voted unanimously this year to establish a task force that will study the effect of federal environmental regulations and policies on the affordability and reliability of electricity generation here in Kentucky. Its report is due by the end of 2016.
As these new laws and examples show, Kentucky has come a long way over the decades when it comes to meeting our country’s energy needs. While there are certainly challenges facing us, these examples also prove that we are also doing all we can to overcome them and are succeeding in many ways.
If you would like to let me know your thoughts on this issue, I would like to hear from you. My address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; or you can email me at Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov.
To leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone, please call 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.