|Adam Beam reports that the new administration promised to bring back coal jobs, but even the U.S. 3rd-largest coal producer appears to be hedging its bets on a comeback. Kentucky is on the cusp of doing what was once unthinkable, opening the door to nuclear power.|
The Republican-controlled state legislature is close to lifting its decades-long moratorium on nuclear energy in a state that has been culturally and economically dominated by coal. Politicians from both parties have promised for years to revive the struggling coal industry, with the new president famously billing himself as the last shot for miners. But as the coal industry continues its slide, even Republican lawmakers are acknowledging a need for alternatives.
There are other factors other than the administration in the White House that controls this. There are banks that are reluctant at this point to give loans for coal-fired plants, said Republican state Sen. Danny Carroll, who sponsored the bill. You look at the jobs that were lost, you look at the production of coal and how that has declined, we have to learn lessons from that and we have to have a third option.
Kentucky coal industry has been steadily declining for decades. Coal-mining employment has fallen from 31,000 in 1990 to just over 6,300. Just three years ago, coal-fired power plants provided 93% of the state electricity. Today, that has fallen to 83%, according to the Kentucky Coal Association, as older plants are being shut down and replaced by natural gas.
Kentucky is one of 15 states that restrict the construction of new nuclear power facilities according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Wisconsin lifted its ban last year. Nationwide, there are 61 nuclear power plants with 99 nuclear reactors in 30 states, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The bill has passed the Kentucky Senate and could get a vote in the House of Representatives soon.