Month: February 2016

America’s Electric Cooperatives Launch ‘Co-Ops Vote’ Campaign

America’s Electric Cooperatives launch ‘Co-ops Vote’ campaign to boost voter turnout, awareness of rural issues

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) today launched a major initiative to enhance voter engagement. The goal of the “Co-ops Vote” campaign is to boost voter turnout in areas served by cooperatives by encouraging electric co-op employees and their consumer members to exercise one of their most basic rights—the right to vote.

“America’s electric cooperatives are leaders in the communities they serve throughout the country with a powerful sense of their civic duty,” said NRECA Interim CEO Jeffrey Connor. “Co-ops Vote focuses elected leaders on the people who are most invested in the success of their own communities.  With 42 million members across the nation, electric co-ops are a powerful voice on national issues that have a local impact.  We want to be sure that voice is always heard, especially on Election Day.”

Working in collaboration with states and local co-ops, this non-partisan campaign will educate and engage all voters on important issues, such as ensuring continued access to reliable electricity, promoting co-ops’ development of innovative renewable energy solutions, and expanding broadband coverage throughout rural America.

Co-ops Vote will provide a wide variety of tools to its more than 900, not-for-profit members to help educate and engage employees and communities, including voter registration information, candidate information and a campaign video. Co-ops are urged to take simple steps, such as encouraging employees to register to vote, hosting voter registration drives at co-op offices, and partnering with local civic groups to plan voter registration efforts.

For more information, visit and follow #CoopsVote.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is the national service organization that represents the nation’s more than 900 private, not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives, which provide service to 42 million people in 47 states.

KAEC Commends U.S. Supreme Court, Stay Of EPA Regulations Comes At Critical Time

Kentucky’s member-owned electric cooperatives commend the action taken Tuesday by the U.S. Supreme Court to suspend the implementation of new, harmful federal regulations of electric power plants. The EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan (CPP) threatens the affordability and reliability of electricity for the 1.5 million Kentuckians served by cooperatives.

“The high court’s halt of the regulation comes at a critical time,” said Chris Perry, president and CEO of the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives. “Without this stay, co-ops would have been forced to take expensive and irreversible actions to comply with the rule.”

The EPA plan targets coal, the main source of Kentucky’s electricity, in new and aggressive limits on carbon emissions. About 90 percent of electricity generated in Kentucky is by coal fired power plants.  The CPP fundamentally changes how electricity is generated, distributed and consumed in the United States.

Because the time frame of the EPA’s rule is inconsistent with the time needed to build alternative energy sources, the rule’s implementation would increase the likelihood of increased costs and potential reliability problems in Kentucky. Co-op members would also be on the hook for the debt of prematurely retired coal-fired plants as non-producing stranded assets

KAEC applauds the leadership of several Kentuckians who have played key roles in the issue. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has steadfastly and effectively voiced his objections to the rule. Governor Matt Bevin is striking a responsible balance, challenging the EPA rule’s legality while seeking an extension until implementation is effective.  And, both former Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway and current Attorney General Andy Beshear have provided solid legal arguments against the heavy-handed regulations.  Conway initially filed suit against the EPA, while Beshear has continued the challenge with 28 other states.

KAEC, its 26 member cooperatives and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association are actively working to communicate the consequences as the courts continue to contemplate the regulations.

At Long Last, Pension Crisis In The Spotlight

Joe Arnold’s Frankfort Update

A few years ago, when I was a frequent panelist on KET’s Comment on Kentucky, on the year-end edition of the show, I would bemoan how difficult it was for television reporters to relay the awful condition of Kentucky’s public pension systems.

As a result, my self-critique was that I did not adequately cover that ticking time bomb of a story, despite the ever-increasing concerns of retirees, citizen watchdogs, and industry analysts.

One reason that the broadcast media gave the snowballing pension crisis relatively little attention is that news outlets have a limited amount of airtime and generally pay more attention to action than inaction.

The pension crisis was rarely on the front burner.

It is now.

In his joint State of the Commonwealth and Budget Address last week, Governor Matt Bevin (R) said paying down Kentucky’s underfunded pensions is “the heartbeat of this entire budget.”

It’s been 14 years since Kentucky’s pensions were fully funded. The Kentucky Employees Retirement System (KERS) has about 17 percent of the money needed to cover its liabilities. The Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System is about 42 percent funded.

“Everything else we care about, including things that I want, things I campaigned on, things I’d like to see, things that many of you in this room and in this body would like to see, we cannot afford until we get our financial house in order,” Bevin told lawmakers in the House chamber.

The Republican’s two-year budget proposal earmarks $1.1 billion for the pension systems, while imposing $650 million in cuts to state government “across the board.”

As he pledged during the gubernatorial campaign, Bevin’s budget begins the phasing out of Kynect, the state’s health benefit exchange.

Several areas were spared cuts, however. Bevin wants increased funding for K-12 education, public defenders, testing of backlogged rape kits, and better pay for social workers, state troopers, and corrections officers.

Bevin acknowledged the state has a long way to go to make the pension systems whole, about $35 billion.

Rejecting a House Democrat proposal to make pension payments by issuing bonds, Bevin said, “We cannot borrow our way out of debt, nor will we try.”

Bevin also called for an independent audit of the pension systems.

For an issue that has escaped the public spotlight for more than a decade, Matt Bevin has identified Kentucky’s pension crisis as the state’s priority.

Meanwhile, legislation on the move in Frankfort includes:

House Bill 172 would preserve pension benefits if spouses of deceased Kentucky public school teachers remarry. Sponsored by Rep. Rick Nelson (D-Middlesboro), the bill was approved by the House State Government Committee.

House Bill 97 is aimed at protecting the lives of infants. It would extend the amount of time parents have to surrender their baby at a state-approved safe place without facing criminal charges. Current law allows 72 hours after birth. HB 97 allows for a 30-day window. It passed the House 92-0.

Senate Joint Resolution 36 condemns Virginia’s recent decision to stop recognizing Kentucky concealed carry permits. By a 37-1 vote, Kentucky’s Senate urges the border state to restore the so-called reciprocal agreement that allowed Kentucky concealed carry permit holders to legally carry a concealed firearm in Virginia.

House Bill 50 was approved by the House Judiciary Committee.  It would allow “public benefit corporations” to operate in Kentucky.  Such corporations would then be required to balance the interests of their stockholders with a broader public interest. According to sponsor Kelly Flood (D-Lexington), 31 states have such a law.

House Bill 278, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg), would increase Kentucky’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 over the next two and half years.  The bill was approved by the House Labor and Industry Committee.

Senate Bill 33 would require public high school students to learn CPR. Sponsored by Sen. Max Wise (R-Campbellsville), the bill will now be considered by the House after a 32-6 vote in the Senate.

Senate Bill 4 dictates informed consent before a woman can have an abortion in Kentucky.  The bill, sponsored by Sen. Julie Raque Adams (R-Louisville), is moving back and forth between the Senate and the House.  After the Senate passed Adams’ original bill that requires in-person, face-to-face consultation, the House amended the legislation, allowing for video conferencing as well. The Senate will now consider the amended House bill.

House Bill 54 would give families of paramedics and other emergency service personnel killed in the line of duty the same $80,000 state death benefit now provided to families of fallen police and firefighters. It is sponsored by Rep. Dean Schamore (D-Hardinsburg) and was filed following last November’s death of Jessamine County paramedic John Mackey, who died after being hit by a car while on ambulance duty.

Joe Arnold(link sends e-mail), KAEC Vice President Strategic Communications

Battery Breakthrough?

The next big thing in energy might be a battery installed outside or inside your home. Huge batteries like Tesla’s Powerwall can store electricity from on-site renewable energy sources or from the power grid, then release it later for household use. Photo: Tesla Mo

Improved technology for energy storage requires bigger, lighter, cheaper, more durable batteries—and around the clock power—to fuel renewable energy

Now, if saving the electricity generated by sunshine were as easy as catching rainwater in a barrel, then renewable energy production would be a lot more appealing for the masses. I think about this every time I take a tour of a high-tech, low-energy-consumption home.

As I walk through the rooms, I pretend what it would be like to actually live there. Where do you put the groceries? How much light is there over the kitchen sink? I wonder how I’d use the fancy stove to fix dinner, and where I’d put the ironing board in the laundry room. Where’s the switch for the bathroom exhaust fan?

I also look at the energy-efficiency labels on the heating and air-conditioning system and the water heater. Then I focus on the rooftop solar panels—and that’s when I go into full investigator mode. How much electricity do those panels produce during the day? What happens on cloudy days or at night when the sun isn’t shining?

Evolving battery technologies
On brilliantly sunny days, a solar array might produce more electricity than all the devices within the home need at the time. Being able to store that surplus quickly, safely, and simply, then withdrawing the electricity for use after sunset, would make sense. It’s easy enough to charge a cell phone’s tiny battery now and use it later—but developing a way to save larger quantities of electricity for a whole household has been a tough challenge.

A key problem involves the chemistry inside conventional lithium-ion batteries. Because of their internal construction and the chemical reactions taking place within them, this kind of battery can go into “thermal runaway.” That’s a fancy term for uncontrolled heating that can destroy the battery or, even worse, cause it to catch on fire. When enlarging a lithium-ion battery to the size needed for a whole house, one solution is to include a cooling and ventilation system.

That’s the route Tesla took when it announced its new Powerwall system early in 2015. Weighing 220 pounds, and about the size of a large television (roughly 51 inches tall, 34 inches wide, and 7 inches thick), the wall-mounted box includes a liquid thermal control system to prevent over-heating. The Powerwall device can store electricity from solar panels, then release it later to provide power to operate kitchen and laundry room appliances, heating and cooling systems, even TVs. The list price of $3,000 does not include professional installation by a trained electrician, nor does it include the cost of the required inverter for use with solar panels.

During the September 2015 Solar Power International showcase in Anaheim, California, another company, SimpliPhi Power Inc., introduced a different technology. According to their advertising materials, their home energy storage battery uses a different combination of chemicals (lithium-ion iron phosphate, no cobalt) that is nontoxic, lightweight, and does not require a costly and bulky heat reduction system.

Yet another company, Orison, is looking for investors to launch production of a third style of home energy storage system that it describes as a “plug and play” device that does not require professional installation.

And there are a host of other innovative companies trying to take their latest battery breakthroughs to the adoption stage.

Wind power and grid options
Tesla’s Powerwall system can be configured to function with or without the conventional power grid. With the proper disconnects for safety reasons, the Powerwall device can provide household electricity during a grid outage. In that situation, it becomes a backup device.

But the Powerwall can also store electricity coming from the grid. That can be important in two situations. In areas with time-of-day pricing structures for electricity, it might be smart to store electricity from the grid in the device when power is cheap, then use it later when power directly from the grid would be very expensive. It could also help when electricity from wind turbines is flowing into the grid in large quantities at times when there is not much demand for power. The device could store the surplus, then release it as needed after the wind stops blowing.

While all of this is possible on paper, and in demonstration homes, whether or not consumers will want to spend the money on this new technology remains to be seen. Jason Ballard, co-founder and president of a sustainable home improvement store that offers Tesla’s Powerwall, says, “I think in the near future, having a battery in your home will be as normal as having a water heater or a dishwasher.”

In September 2015, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC), Hawaii’s only member-owned electric utility, announced a plan to make use of the first utility-scale solar array and battery storage system designed to supply power to the grid in the evening, when demand is highest. The project is believed to be the first utility-scale system in the U.S. to provide dispatchable solar energy, meaning that the utility can count on electricity being available when it’s needed, even hours after the sun goes down.

KIUC President and CEO David Bissell says, “KIUC has been investigating energy storage options for more than two years and price has always been the biggest challenge. This is a breakthrough project on technology and on price that enables us to move solar energy to the peak demand hours in the evening and reduce the amount of fossil fuel we’re using.”

Nancy Grant, from February 2016 Kentucky Living magazine Issue