Monday, April 17, 2017

Even in Coal Country Businesses Demand Clean Energy

Kevin Butt's job is to find cleaner ways to power Toyota. One of the hardest places to do that is at the automaker's sprawling plant in central Kentucky, a state where nearly 90 percent of electricity still comes from coal.

Butt points out a new engine assembly line, where a conveyor belt moves in a slow circle. He says it was specially designed with a more efficient motor. There are also enormous fans overhead and LED lights, all changes that save millions.

"I mean, what company doesn't want to reduce their energy bill," he says.
That's the business case for going green. And in a lot of places around the country, solar and wind are now the cheapest energy option. But a few years ago, Toyota decided that by 2050 all of its operations, all around the world, should be zero-carbon.

It's part of a larger business shift. In Kentucky, General Motors, Ford, Walmart, L'Oreal and others also have big goals to reduce emissions. Even the state's beloved bourbon makers are starting to look at renewables.

"There's not enough renewable energy being manufactured right now for all of us to do what we say we want to do," Butt says.

That's true globally, he says, and it's especially true in Kentucky, where people like to say coal isn't just the economy, it's the culture.

"We're a coal state, we're proud to be a coal state, we're sentimental about our attachment to coal," says Charles Snavely, secretary of Kentucky's Energy and Environment Cabinet.

Before this job, Snavely spent 35 years in the coal industry. His office is now working with companies — he calls them customers — to help develop renewable energy. But Snavely says he struggles with whether "the growth of renewables [comes] at the expense of coal. Is it a bigger pie, or is someone taking a slice of our pie?"

Kentucky, unlike many other states, has no mandate to require a certain share of renewable energy. The state joined two dozen others in a lawsuit challenging President Barack Obama's signature climate policy, the Clean Power Plan, which would have shuttered hundreds of coal-fired power plants. Snavely says coal built his state's economy, creating some of the cheapest power in the country.

From NPR

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