Letter to the Editor 01 300MUHLENBERG COUNTY, Ky. (2/7/19) — This week, a Muhlenberg County Institution is under threat of permanent closure. The TVA Board, at the recommendation of their CEO Bill Johnson, will vote next week on whether to close TVA Paradise Plant Unit 3. This is a resource that could power nearly every home and most of the businesses in the City of Louisville and Lexington combined.

Impact on Our Community

The loss of this plant will be devastating to Central City and the Muhlenberg County region. The immediate impact will certainly be felt by the employees of the plant and of the mine that supplies its fuel. But what many people don’t realize, is the economic multiplier effect of energy costs and availability is extremely high. Not only will Paradise employees feel the pain, but also plant maintenance contractors, local restaurants and the rest of the community. The decrease in tax revenue will deal a blow to schools.

In addition, our economic development efforts will be hampered. When we meet with manufacturers and other job creators, one of the first questions they ask us is about our energy costs. TVA claims that this closure will not affect those costs, but those assumptions are based on average usage. It is very possible that electricity rates will be significantly affected during extreme weather events like the Polar Vortex of last week. Likewise, as Governor Bevin continues to grow his vision of making Kentucky the Engineering and Manufacturing hub of excellence in America, and as more industry moves to Kentucky, demand for power will increase. If I remember my economics correctly, when demand goes up for a commodity (in this case electricity) the price goes up.

Impact on Our State

If, or perhaps I should say when, electricity prices go up, the economy of our entire state is impacted. To use one familiar example, consider your local grocery. That store is filled with freezers of products we love like ice cream or refrigeration units with perishable food items. These large appliances require a large amount of electricity. When the grocer has to pay more to run these coolers and keep the lights on, they must charge more for food. When your favorite restaurant has to pay more to power their ovens and stoves, the higher cost is paid by you, the customer. These are simple examples of the multiplier effect I discussed earlier.

Impact on Our Nation

Finally, the closure of Paradise Unit 3 would have an impact on the stability of the nation’s electrical grid. Many Americans have been misled about coal power as if these plants are nothing more than antiquated pollution machines. In reality, they are designed for toughness, extreme reliability, and security. Paradise is particularly valuable because it sits upon its own fuel source. Governor Bevin once said, “A terrorist could launch an artillery shell into a coal pile and all you would end up with are smaller pieces of coal, and the plant is going to grind the coal anyway.”

There is a reason why most of us have always taken for granted the luxury of flipping a switch and having instant, stable, safe, reliable electricity. The phrase, “Coal keeps the lights on,” is much more than just marketing. It is a statement of how the grid actually works. In the last few years, natural gas availability has greatly improved, driving those prices down. As a result, new power plants, fueled by gas have begun to emerge. We are grateful for this wonderful fossil fuel resource. However, just last week, during the extreme cold, many Midwestern customers were asked to turn their thermostats down to 55 degrees and to utilize electric space heaters to make up the difference. The gas supply pipeline was overwhelmed. That cold snap lasted 72 hours. Imagine if it had lasted a week. What would we have done without coal? Renewables are not even a serious part of the discussion. Renewable energy is a nice supplement, but it cannot come close to producing the volume of electricity we need.

Conclusion

In just the past five years, over 23,000 Megawatts of coal power generation have been shut down in this country. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is currently conducting a study to determine how that is going to impact grid stability. At the very least, the TVA board should delay their vote until that study is completed. Gov. Bevin has spoken to U. S. Energy Secretary Perry, the Vice President, and the President about this issue, all of whom oppose the closing of Paradise. Their opinions should be heeded on this important matter.

Our community and supporters of coal across the region are conducting a rally on Saturday Feb. 9 at 11 a.m. at the Merle Travis Center in Powderly. Gov. Bevin will be speaking. Please come out and make your voice heard if you would like to see Paradise Unit 3 remain a viable part of our energy infrastructure.

Chris Skates is a freelance writer with 30 years of coal fueled power plant experience. He currently serves as an advisor to Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin.

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