Erica Peterson

Erica reports on environment and energy issues for WFPL, which run the gamut from stories about the regionââââ

Berkeley Energy Group

In the first project of its kind, a Kentucky coal company is partnering with a global renewable energy giant to explore putting a major solar installation on a former mountaintop removal coal mine.

Coal company Berkeley Energy Group and EDF Renewable Energy have been working on the initial phase of the project for more than a year. Although it’s still in the early phases, the plan includes putting 50 to 100 megawatts of solar panels on a surface mine site outside of Pikeville.

This would be the biggest solar plant in the state — potentially 10 times larger than the solar array at Kentucky Utilities’ Brown Station in Central Kentucky.

John Blair/Valley Watch

The plume of polluted water was black. In the satellite images, it snaked from the coal ash landfill at the D.B. Wilson Power Plant in Western Kentucky, about 40 minutes south of Owensboro. The water went through a ditch, until it reached a sediment pond. There, the images showed the black plume spreading through the murky green water, before it dissipated.

The black water — which state regulators described as having a “very pronounced unpleasant odor” — had arsenic levels that exceed the federal standard by nearly a thousand times. Regulators say it’s possible the pollution has been seeping from the landfill for more than a decade, eventually making its way into the Green River and potentially contaminating the groundwater.

Erica Peterson

Monday night at his rally in Louisville, President Donald Trump repeated a campaign promise, telling the crowd he would revive Kentucky’s beleaguered coal industry.

“As we speak, we are preparing new executive actions to save our coal industry and to save our wonderful coal miners from continuing to be put out of work,” he said. “The miners are coming back.”

But Trump didn’t offer any details about what those executive actions could be. He has already used the Congressional Review Act to roll back the Stream Protection Rule — which tightened environmental restrictions on surface mining, and had been in effect for less than a month — and has hinted in the past that the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan carbon dioxide regulations will be on the chopping block as well.

Erica Peterson

Kentucky regulators have approved a coal ash landfill for a power plant in Trimble County, advancing a project that’s been on hold for several years as regulators worked around concerns about the area’s geology and proximity to neighbors.

Louisville Gas & Electric has been seeking a permit for the site for more than five years. An initial permit application was denied in 2013, after a cave with ecological and possible historical significance was discovered onsite.

The Trimble County Power Station burns coal for electricity, and coal ash is a byproduct. So LG&E needs a place to put the ash, and began work on another landfill permit. Some of the ash is stored on site in ponds, but those are scheduled to be closed soon.

Erica Peterson | wfpl.org

A state Fish and Wildlife committee is recommending the full commission approve a plan to raise boat registration fees to combat the spread of invasive Asian carp in the commonwealth.

Asian carp are an invasive species, and they’ve been in the Mississippi and Ohio River basins for several years. They’re also in Kentucky and Barkley lakes in Western Kentucky. And once they make it into a body of water, they’re almost impossible to get out.

“They spawn so rapidly that their numbers are what the problem is,” said Kentucky Division of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Mark Marraccini. “The silver carp can get 20, 30, 40 pounds apiece each, and bighead carp can get up to 100 pounds, although we see a lot of them in the 50, 60, 70 pound range.”

Facebook

The Kentucky Public Service Commission has granted a Southeast Kentucky electric cooperative a small rate increase, but in doing so, ripped the utility for excessive employee pay and nepotism.

Cumberland Valley Electric had proposed a rate increase that — like the recent proposal by Louisville Gas and Electric — would significantly raise the monthly service charge. In this case, Cumberland Valley wanted to raise the charge from $8.73 to $14.10.

In its order, the PSC granted Cumberland Valley part of that increase, raising the monthly charge to $12. But the commissioners said they wanted to see significant changes in the way the utility hires and compensates employees.

Southwings and Vivian Stockman

Congress is enacting a little-used provision this week to turn back Obama-era regulations on coal mining near streams. The House of Representatives is expected to vote Wednesday on legislation that would block the Stream Protection Rule, and the Senate is expected to do the same Wednesday evening or Thursday.

House and Senate Republicans are targeting the Stream Protection Rule using the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers to block new rules that aren’t passed by Congress within 60 days of them going into effect. The Obama Administration spent eight years writing the rule, which is an updated version of a Bush-era regulation, but it wasn’t finalized until late December.

Joseph Lord

This is a story about a virus that infects a fungus.

The fungus causes white-nose syndrome — a disease that’s affecting bats in 29 states, including Kentucky. Bats with white-nose syndrome act strangely; they often lose the fat reserves that are necessary to survive the hibernating winter months, then leave caves in the winter and die.

Scientists estimate that so far, white-nose syndrome is fatal for anywhere from 90 to 100 percent of bats with the disease. Since 2006, it’s killed more than six million bats in North America.

Erica Peterson

President-Elect Donald Trump has said he will revoke numerous federal regulations when he takes office, including the Obama administration’s rules to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. But while Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency may choose to turn a blind eye when it comes to enforcing the standard, getting rid of the Clean Power Plan entirely may be easier said than done.

More than two dozen other states and state agencies are already suing to overturn the regulation, which regulates carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

Erica Peterson

Residents of Kentucky’s coal counties are holding out hope that next year will bring the passage of the RECLAIM Act — legislation meant to free a billion dollars from the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to help spur economic development in communities hurting from the downturn in the coal industry.

The original RECLAIM Act was introduced in February by Kentucky Congressman Hal Rogers and 27 other representatives. But despite its bipartisan support, the bill never moved out of committee. Now, another version has been introduced in the Senate.

Erica Peterson

Overall, Kentucky is getting drier. Droughts are becoming a more common occurrence — affecting everything from agriculture to the frequency of forest fires.

But despite the fact that we’re seeing overall less rain, there’s more coming all at once.

“You can already see this in observational records, that the downpours are getting more extreme,” said Andreas Prein.

He’s a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and his new study released Monday quantifies how much regions across the country can expect storm intensity and frequency to increase by the end of the century, due to climate change.

There are significant implications for urban areas when lots of rain comes all at once, overflowing sewers, flooding and stormwater runoff. But intense rainfall is also a real problem for Kentucky’s farmers.

Erica Peterson

The proposed conversion of a natural gas pipeline across Kentucky is moving forward.

Friday is the final day to comment on a draft environmental assessment that found the project would have no significant environmental impacts. But environmental groups and residents affected by the pipeline say the project deserves a more thorough analysis.

In 2013, energy company Kinder Morgan announced it planned to stop carrying natural gas through the 1,400-mile Tennessee Gas Pipeline. Instead, it would convert the pipeline to carry natural gas liquids (NGLs) and reverse its flow.

NGLs are the byproduct of drilling for natural gas and contain hydrocarbons like butane, ethane and propane. They’re used in manufacturing plastics and other materials.

LG&E/KU

Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities are planning a new way to offer solar energy to residential customers.

The utilities are seeking permission from the Kentucky Public Service Commission to build a 4 megawatt community solar field in Shelby County. LG&E and KU ratepayers who want solar energy, but for whatever reason can’t install it on their own properties, can pay a fee for a share of the solar field and get a credit on their utility bills for the solar energy that share generates.

“We continue to see an increased interest from customers for renewable energy,” said LG&E spokeswoman Liz Pratt. “If this were to be approved, this type of program is ideal for customers who want to support local solar energy but are unable to install it on their own property or would prefer to avoid upfront or long-term costs. It’s especially appealing for renters or those customers who may have properties predominantly in shade or may have deed restrictions.”

Erica Peterson

A non-profit is recommending a Kentucky coal plant retire sooner than planned.

The Elmer Smith plant in Owensboro is old — it initially went into service in 1964. And over the past few years, it’s become a target for environmental groups, who point to the plant’s age and emissions, saying the upgrades it would take to comply with upcoming pollution regulations make it uneconomical to keep burning coal there.

At the request of the Sierra Club, the non-profit Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis studied several documents from Owensboro Municipal Utilities, which owns and operates the Elmer Smith plant. IEEFA concluded that retiring the plant’s two units sooner rather than later would be the least-cost option for ratepayers, and urged the utility to consider replacing the capacity with renewable energy.

Among the problems IEEFA Director of Resource Planning David Schissel flagged in his analysis of Elmer Smith was that the area’s demand for electricity has remained relatively flat since 2004. So since then, the plant has been producing more power than it needs to supply its ratepayers. OMU sells the excess power on the wholesale market, but for only a fraction of its cost.

Wikimedia Commons

A coalition of environmental groups is formally protesting the upcoming auction of federal lands in Western Kentucky for possible oil and gas drilling.

The administrative protest was filed last week by groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Kentucky Conservation Committee, the Sierra Club and others.

At issue is the proposed auction of 184 acres in Union County. The land is part of the Sloughs Wildlife Management Area; in total, the WMA is more than 11,000 acres owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and licensed to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. The Bureau of Land Management wants to auction off the land’s oil and gas leases in September, though they note that the leases won’t include any surface disturbance.

Pages