Kentucky lawmakers advance bill to lift nuclear power moratorium

Dive Brief:

  • Kentucky lawmakers are advancing a bill designed to lift the 30-year moratorium on new nuclear generation as coal-fired generation declines in the state, media reports say. 
  • Senate Bill 11 (S.B. 11) already passed the state Senate and could face a final vote in the House of Representatives this month. Gov. Matt Bevin (R) said he supports the bill and has no plans to veto it if it makes it to his desk. 
  • State Senator Daniel Carroll (R), the bill's primary sponsor, said removing the nuclear moratorium was crucial to a "balanced generation mix," according to Platts, and to reel in industries looking for a specific type of energy resource apart from coal. 

Dive Insight:

Kentucky's status as a coal state is well-documented. In 2015, only Wyoming and West Virginia sourced a greater portion of their power from the resource.

But even the Bluegrass State is not immune to market pressures forcing coal plants offline. In 2015 alone, more than 10% of the state's coal capacity retired as natural gas generation climbed upward to provide 7% of the state's power. 

Lawmakers are taking notice, and the bill lifting the 30-year moratorium on nuclear is one step in the direction of a more "balanced generation mix," according to the primary sponsor. 

"There are certain industries that look at energy policies where, if they see a state heavily relying on fossil fuels, they may not relocate there for that reason," Carroll told Platts.

Lifting the moratorium, however, would not guarantee any new generation diversity in Kentucky.

Nuclear plants take years to pass federal regulatory hurdles and are notoriously costly to construct. The two plants being built in the U.S. today — the Vogtle and Summer plants — are both years behind schedule and millions over budget. 

Bill supporters told Platts they are aware the legislation would likely not result in new nuclear construction in the state for at least a decade. It could, however, allow the state to bid for nuclear research dollars, they said. 

Kentucky's interest in nuclear comes as the resource struggles in states with deregulated power markets. In recent months, Illinois and New York have approved subsidies to prevent a handful of nuclear plants from retiring, and similar proposals are on tap in Connecticut and Ohio. 

Kentucky, however, is still a vertically-integrated utility state without organized power markets, so any new plants would not be exposed to competitive pressures from natural gas and renewables. Any new construction, however, would have to be approved by state regulators. 

The Kentucky House of Representatives is set to hear the bill this week. 

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Filed Under: Generation Regulation & Policy
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