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Holding LG&E Accountable to Humanity’s 21st Century Imperative to Quit Fossil Fuels!

On March 9, 2023 our Executive Director, Elisa Owen, addressed the Parks and Sustainability Committee of Louisville’s Metro Council to ask its members to support a resolution condemning LG&E’s efforts to expand its fossil gas business in Bullitt County through the building of a $75 million dollar fossil gas pipeline. The cost of that unnecessary new fossil fuel infrastructure would take decades to pay down and be bourne largely by LG&E’s gas customers in Louisville. The resolution on which Elisa was speaking will be heard by the full council on April 13, 2023. Before that time, please use the guide here (https://www.lojic.org/metro-council-districts) to find your Metro Council Representative, and then click on the icon that pops up to go to their district website where you’ll find their contact information. Finally, don’t forget to drop them an email or give them a call to ask that they vote in support of this resolution!


KIPL Director’s March 9th Remarks Supporting Resolution Requesting that LG&E Drop Its Fossil Gas Pipeline Plans.


Good afternoon. I am Elisa Owen, the executive director of Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light, Kentucky’s chapter in a national coalition of religiously based organizations that exists to mobilize a religious response to climate change. I am an ordained Presbyterian pastor who also happens to have 10 years of experience in and around the business of sustainability and electric energy regulation. But I don’t just speak for KIPL today. I have the honor of being the spokesperson for a coalition of nonprofits and individuals; 8450 individuals in our area and, in addition to KIPL, religious and secular groups that include the Dominican Sisters of Peace, the Earth and Spirit Center, Friends for Environmental Justice, the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition, the Kentucky Waterways Alliance, the Lorretto Community, New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future, the Sierra Club of Greater Louisville, the Justice Center at All Peoples and the Renewable Energy Alliance of Louisville or REAL.


REAL is the group that spearheaded Metro Council’s passage of our city’s 100% renewable energy resolution. This body approved this resolution in February of 2020 to encourage our Metro government agencies to design and implement a work in progress plan that gets our city govt and transport to 100 percent clean energy by 2035 and, by 2040, 100% renewable energy throughout our entire Metro area. We will need the cooperation of our monopoly utility to make that renewable energy resolution you all had the wisdom to pass happen. Our coalition views LG&E’s insistence on building new natural gas infrastructure in Bullitt County to serve a growing residential and light industrial area with fossil fuel fired power, areas that could just as easily be served by the electric power into which renewable energy is easily integrated, as unwanted proof that PPL and LG&E leadership have not fully understood the imperatives of the 21st century. As such, our view is that they are moving our local utility in the 180 degrees in the wrong direction by, as this effort to condemn a conservation easement on property purchased with tax payer money shows us clearly, assaulting private property rights and the viability of conservation easements statewide, disregarding the interests of their own captive ratepayers, and threatening our environment.


But before I go any further to explain these three overarching reasons why we are asking you to support today’s resolution condemning LG&E’s efforts to take Bernheim Forrest’s lands in this short-sighted effort to shore up the profits of what should be, for reasons of climate health, its moving toward obsolete gas business, I want to remind you of the gentleperson’s agreement that requires LG&E keep its ratepayers as front and center as it does its shareholders when it makes decisions on how to allocate its capital resources. In a nutshell, LG&E did not earn the trust of consent of the people it serves. Instead, the company was given the privilege of providing monopoly electric service to our community and many other areas in our state in exchange for attending to our interest in reliable electricity at low-cost rates that are “fair, just and reasonable.” When it doesn’t attend to this interest, it must contend with Kentucky’s public service commission or PSC, which exists to make sure the company does not ignore ratepayers as it makes business decisions. This is one instance in which we are quite convinced the company is ignoring the interests of its ratepayers. Why? The company seems hell bent on ignoring their responsibility to help us move toward a decarbonized future. Instead, it is threatening private property rights while it disregards the ways new fossil investments like the Bernheim pipeline may quickly become stranded, that is, totally unprofitable assets for which ratepayers will remain on the hook. And in doing all that, LG&E is unnecessarily threatening our environment by expanding their gas business into areas which could just as easily be served by existing electric infrastructure, albeit not infrastructure belonging to LG&E.


So, let’s briefly unpack the 3 buckets of reasons we are asking you to vote for the resolution before you today. First LG&E’s assault on private property rights. In trying to condemn Bernheim’s land to provide gas service to a growing residential and light industrial area which, as I’ve already far as we can tell, could just as easily get its power from existing electric service, LG&E threatens the private property rights that are deeply embedded, and for good reason, in our state’s political culture. The Kentucky Appeals Court decided that the State of Kentucky does have a property interest in the 494 acres the LG&E pipeline would pass through because it used taxpayer money, through the Kentucky Land Heritage Conservation Fund, to buy the land which Bernheim currently owns through which the pipeline is planned. Unfortunately, because of the way our state legislature wrote the state’s eminent domain law, which reads “a conservation easement shall not operate to impair or restrict any right of power of eminent domain created by statute, and all such rights and powers shall be exercisable as if the conservation easement did not exist”, the same Kentucky Appeals Court ruled that the conservation easement is not relevant in condemnation proceedings pertaining to this portion of Bernheim’s land. But legal questions remain. Does this mean our state’s conservation easement law is effectively null and void because of the way the eminent domain law is written? Or is more judicial exploration of these issues needed to determine if and how Ky’s eminent domain law can really coexist with the protection from unwanted development our state’s conservation easement laws are designed to ensure? Finally, does this mean that farmers and other landowners are vulnerable to land grabs by utilities who do not meet what should be a very high bar for land condemnation? The high bar which would protect the KY eminent domain law from willy nilly rendering all conservation easements vulnerable would be, in our view, to allow override of conservation easements only an instance in which building new infrastructure were the sole way to provide power service to those living in a territory in question. As we have already made clear, power for Bullitt County development can be had through the Salt River Electric Coop so, ultimately, is LG&E’s gas really needed? We think not.


Second, all of your constituents, all of whom have no choice but to receive their electricity from Louisville’s monopoly utility, want to make sure the company does not invest in costly infrastructure that cannot be paid down over the course of its natural life. The International Energy Agency has stated clearly that our planet, to hit the net-zero decarbonization target we need to reach by 2050 if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change, needs no new fossil fuel infrastructure after 2021. This pipeline is additional fossil fuel infrastructure. And I know I don’t need to remind you it’s 2023. Not only is our utility threatening the health of our planet by making this investment, it is also threatening the financial health of its own company and the right of LG&E’s methane gas customers to low-cost rates. How? LG&E has no idea when federal or state regulations limiting fossil fuel use may be implemented by necessity. And yet, rather than investing in energy that will get us and the utility itself to a healthy future, the company is instead choosing to risk more than 75 million on a project that has a 70-year life span. Is the company that sure this investment will be returning profits and that people will still be up for burning fossil fuels for energy until the very late year of 2093? If not, and the investment can’t be covered by the revenue from new infrastructure that will instead quickly become obsolete, the pipeline will become a stranded asset. Which simply means it will become an unprofitable asset; an asset for which either ratepayers already paying exorbitant rates for fossil gas service, or shareholders expecting a healthy return on their investment in LG&E will be on the hook. Fossil gas rate payers already call your office complaining of high rates. I don’t want this risky investment to push the fossil gas rates of your constituents higher, do you?


Finally, our planet is facing twin crises, each exacerbating the other, of mass wildlife loss, climate change. Monitored populations of vertebrates (mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish) have seen a devastating 69% drop on average since 1970, according to World Wildlife Fund's (WWF) Living Planet Report 2022. And climate change is as close to us as Friday’s devastating wind storm and canceled school day. In order to reverse these crises that are threatening not only our current quality of life but also the survivability of our children and grandchildren, we have to hold the monopoly utility who enjoys revenue streams from us, its unfortunately very captive customers, accountable for doing the right thing. And doing the right thing comes down to not building additional fossil gas infrastructure. Especially when renewable energy with storage is both lower cost over its life cycle than even natural gas and infinitely better for human and planetary health.


On that note, social justice is environmental justice. Black and brown communities disproportionately live around fossil fuel power plants and other industrial polluters. As such, they disproportionately suffer the health consequences of fossil pollution and, often as communities with less disposable income than the mean, are those who would most benefit from lower cost renewable options to power both their homes and their transport. But given historical systemic racism, these communities have the least “extra” resources to easily make the transition to new systems to power their homes and vehicles. Our utility, therefore, who is there to serve us and not the other way around, should help them do it – lowering rates across the board by choosing to power our community not with more fossil gas infrastructure, but with lower-cost renewable power.


My colleague and friend in this fight to hold our monopoly utility accountable, Mark Wourms, Executive Director of Bernheim, summarized our coalition’s position very well. “The opposition to the proposed LG&E/PPL pipeline is larger than Bernheim. The entire community, metro council included through its renewable energy resolution, is expressing concern that we can no longer afford big energy business as usual, especially while we struggle with the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. That’s why we are pushing for a safe, sustainable and healthy future where communities thrive using lowest-cost renewable power and nature also flourishes. LG&E/PPL has an opportunity to be a national leader in decarbonizing energy production and delivery. They should do the right thing. Time is short!”


And that’s why we are asking that you also do the right thing by supporting this resolution. LG&E needs to know we are not pleased with their obsolete 20th century decision making with respect to how to allocate the capital our money has provided them.


Time is indeed short. Thank you so much for your support.



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