Tuesday, February 26, 2002

House approves power-plant bill

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — The House on Monday voted overwhelmingly to regulate the siting of new electric generating plants and transmission lines, but only after narrowly defeating a proposal to exempt Kentucky utilities.

        The debate strayed across a variety of topics, from warnings about California-style power shortages to help for beleaguered coal miners as well as some control of where new plants and high-tension wires might be placed.

        Rep. Jon Draud, R-Crestview Hills, accused utilities of using “scare tactics” about higher electric rates and other dangers if they were subjected to regulations on power-plant siting.

        “There's been a tremendous amount of misinformation by the utilities,” Mr. Draud said. “Any reasonable proposal in this state will be built.”

        Others staunchly defended the utilities that have provided electricity at the lowest rates in the nation.

        “I can't understand why we don't trust the regulated utilities that have provided excellent service for more than a century,” said Rep. Charlie Walton, R-Florence.

        The disagreement cut across party lines and the exemption from siting regulation for utilities that are already regulated by the Public Service Commission was defeated on a 49-49 vote. A motion to reconsider the matter lost by an even larger margin.

        The House, though, also refused to extend the moratorium on new power plants that Gov. Paul Patton signed last year, indicating some sentiment for electric generators, but with more oversight.

        Mr. Patton imposed the moratorium on accepting new applications to build power plants after nearly 30 were proposed. Most of them were “merchant” plants that would generate only power to be sold outside the state.

        A study panel concluded that the plants could be built without endangering the state's environment, but there were questions about the ability to carry all the newly generated power.

        The legislation would create a panel of members of the Public Service Commission, secretaries of the Economic Development and Natural Resources cabinets and two citizens from the community where the plant is proposed. The panel would be able to recommend against approval of the power plant.

        Rep. Phillip Childers, D-Garner, said electric generating plants are needed to keep the coal economy healthy.

        “Why have we got the cheapest electricity in the nation? It's on the backs of the coal miners,” Mr. Childers said.

        Rep. Gross Lindsay, D-Henderson, said the moratorium should end and regulation begin for the sake of the environment.

        “I don't want the state of Kentucky to be the smokestack for the United States,” he said.

        The bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration.


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