LOUISA, Ky. -- Closing the Big Sandy Power plant here would be devastating for the county. That's what speaker after speaker said Tuesday night during a Kentucky Public Service Commission Public Meeting at the Lawrence County Community Center.
Lawrence Countian Gary Allen asked some provoking questions but did not get answers.But the main question seems to be would you rather pay more for your electricity in order to keep the Big Sandy plant burning coal, or would you rather have cheaper electricity that meets environmental code?
County attorney Mike Hogan was the driving force behind the effort to gather public comment against the closure of the local Big Sandy Power plant and purchasing power from a W.Va. company instead, which was the purpose of the Tuesday meeting which drew 167 mostly pro-coal visitors, not counting the state officials who were there.
Hogan said he did not know what effect the public's participation in the meeting will have. "I think we can get enough pressure on the PSC to stop this," Hogan said.
The meeting had two sessions, the first for questions and answers (See Lazer video on Lazer main page) and a session that was for statements only.
County Attorney Mike Hogan asked some pointed questions. (See Lazer New Videos section on main page)Public officials who spoke at the official session included State Representative Rocky Adkins, who told the two PSC officials who attended the meeting that coal is the lifeblood of the area and the closure of the Big Sandy Plant would cost Lawrence County $908,000 in franchise property tax dollars if the plant is shut down.
School Supt. Mike Armstrong, whose family moved to Louisa to work at the plant in the early 1960's, said the loss of all school tax revenue would mean $468,000 less to operate the already financially fragile school system. Judge/Executive John Osborne said he expects the PSC to "act in favor of the people and the closure would surely hurt everything around here."
Adkins said legal action will likely be taken if the PSC approves Ky. Power's application to purchase it's coal from a Moundsville, W.Va. plant called the Simpson Plant that is already owned by Ky. Power's parent company, AEP. The Simpson Plant sells its power mostly to customers in Ohio which is a open market state. That means there are no franchise areas and customers can purchase their electricity from any company they decide to.
In Kentucky, which is a regulated state, customers have little choice in choosing where their utility comes from because in most cases there is only one. In Kentucky coal companies can charge customers whatever the market allows without much, if any regulation. Those costs are then passed on to the customer.
Former magistrate Gary Nelson had insightful questions for the PSC. TRMC CEO Greg Kiser is shown in the background (See Video)AEP has estimated that rates will raise by 31% if the scrubbers are added and Big Sandy left open and only 8% if they are allowed to sell from their W.Va. plant.
Adkins and others questioned those figures. He also asked what amount per month the number is based on and Robinson said the average customer in the 140,000 population area is $94 per month to which the crowd scoffed loudly. None of the attendees said their bills were that low.
Both plants are of similar age and capacity but the one in Moundsville had scrubbers in 2007, and the Big Sandy plant needs nearly $1 billion in scrubbers to continue operating the local plant because of recent action by the Environmental Protection Agency to lower pollution producing old power plants.
Ky. Power has already announced the retirement of a second plant on its property on Ky. 23 north of Louisa at the end of 2014. The PSC nor any other entity has the power to keep a company from closure, a PSC official who emceed the meeting said.
"This action allows AEP to turn its back on its 140,000 customers in our area and shift the financial benefits to Ohio where the headquarters is located," Hogan said.
Kentucky Power spokesperson Ronn Robinson attended the meeting but said he did not know the answers to many questions and was not authorized to speak on behalf of the company on those issues.
There was no representative from local or outside environmental groups at the meeting.
The full membership of the PSC will vote on the application later this month in Frankfort, so this will be the last chance local customers will have to speak out about their concerns.
Two more meetings are scheduled in the customer area at Whitesburg and Pikeville before the vote.
See several recent former Lazer stories on the subject or go to the PSC site and watch the speakers in action.
See Lazer video of the Q&A session on main page
See PSC video of formal questions and statements HERE