By Russ Brown
Northern Kentucky’s two major electrical energy suppliers, Owen Electric and Duke Energy, continue to be at the forefront of the movement to clean, renewable energy, with a couple of new or expanding programs.
Fifteen of Kentucky’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives, of which Owen Electric is a member, offer a renewable energy program called Envirowatts. Touchstone represents a nationwide alliance of member-owned electric co-ops that deliver power and energy solutions to more than 700 local electric cooperatives across 46 states.
Customers can choose which envirowatts renewable energy sources they prefer to support: solar, wind, biomass and hydro. The voluntary program lets customers purchase renewable energy in $2.75 portions, with no maximum. Owen describes purchasing Envirowatts is an investment in the future of renewable energy in Kentucky by helping to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
For example, according to EPA estimates, under current market prices a $2.75 portion of solar generates 1,170 pounds of carbon dioxide offset. That’s equivalent to preventing emissions from the consumption of 59.7 gallons of gasoline or annual greenhouse gas emissions from 1,264 miles/year driven by an average passenger vehicle. Wind, hydro and biomass offset much more.
Owen, which was founded in 1937, provides power to 61,000 homes and businesses in nine counties. It sources most of its power from landfill gas plants, and it is involved in the solar energy market with East Kentucky Power Cooperative (EKPC).
Duke Energy, meanwhile, aims to reduce carbon emission by at least 50% by 2030 and to achieve net-zero carbon emission by 2050, a plan that it says requires investments in research and technology.
The company’s 2017 goal to reduce carbon by 40% by 2030 was one of the industry’s most ambitious at the time. Since then, sustained low natural gas prices and declining costs for renewables and storage have allowed Duke to accelerate that goal.
“We are making a cleaner energy future a reality for our customers and communities,” said Lynn Good, Duke chairman, president and CEO. “A diverse mix of renewables, nuclear, natural gas, hydro and energy efficiency are all part of this vision.”
Natural gas very plentiful
Also on the energy front, most Northern Kentucky residents continue to get good news when it comes to natural gas prices. Those prices have been stable or have descended over the past 10 years, and it doesn’t look like anything will change in the near future.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot of fluctuation in the natural gas market. If anything, there’s been a slow downward trend,” said Andrew Melnykovych, public information officer for the Kentucky Public Service Commission. “There hasn’t been a dramatic fluctuation since we saw the beginning of much higher production in the domestic market due to new drilling techniques. There is more than an ample supply, which, if you look at all the forecasts, should keep natural gas prices both stable and fairly low.”
However, electric customers won’t get off quite so easily. Duke, which serves approximately 140,000 customers in Northern Kentucky, filed a request in September for the Kentucky PSC to conduct a public review of the company’s rates “due to investments leading to safer, more reliable and secure energy for customers and communities.” The case is pending.
Duke has asked the commission for permission to increase base rates by about $45.6 million, or an average of about 12.5%. If the proposal is approved, a residential customer who uses an average of 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each month would pay about $112.08, an increase of $15.62.
“We’re making strategic, data-driven investments to improve reliability and protect our system against cyber and physical threats,” said Amy Spiller, president of Duke Energy Ohio/Kentucky. “Our work is paying off for customers by reducing the frequency and length of outages, and delivering more choices and control when it comes to their energy use.”
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Even with a rate increase, Northern Kentucky residents would still be below the average national electricity rate of about $130 per 1,000 kilowatt hours because the majority of Duke’s power is still generated by coal-fired plants that are economically efficient.
“Duke Energy has certainly signaled its intention to move away from fossil fuels,” Melnykovych said.
Another Northern Kentucky utility that is heavily invested in clean energy is Bavarian Water Services in Walton. Bavarian joined forces in 2003 with EKPC to become the first landfill in Kentucky to convert its landfill gas into electricity.
Bavarian redirects detrimental methane gas from entering the atmosphere, instead sending it to be electric power fuel. In 2016, EKPC’s power plant at Bavarian expanded and has become a leader for the entire Southeastern U.S., generating enough to power 27,000 homes.
“Northern Kentucky has been a leader in so many areas, now we are the leader in something that will benefit both energy consumers and the environment,” said Gary Moore, Boone County Judge/Executive.
Doug Bramer, business development manager for Bavarian, says the company strategy is to remain aggressive in repurposing waste.
“We are currently seeking even more efficient options for the landfill gas to further reduce emissions,” he said.
Modern and efficient infrastructure
On a different front, the nonprofit Northern Kentucky Water District was granted a rate increase for 2020 to pay for replacing aging water pipes, pumps and treatment plants with modern and more efficient infrastructure.
The residential customer fee will go from $16.40 to $18.50 per month in 2020 and water consumption costs from $4.53 per 100 cubic feet to $4.77. The typical customer will see an increase of $3.84 a month by 2020 compared to 2018 costs.
The district serves 83,000 customers in Campbell and Kenton counties, along with portions of Boone, Grant and Pendleton counties, in a 312-square mile area that includes 1,296 miles of main and three water treatment plants. Another major provider in the area is the Boone County Water District, which serves 26,000.
Melnykovych says those two utilities run smoothly in the eyes of the Kentucky Public Service Commission.
“In that part of the state we haven’t seen some of the issues we’ve seen in Eastern Kentucky in terms of both operations and financial stability,” he said. “Those are two of the largest water districts in the state and (the Ky. PSC) has no particular concerns with respect to either one.”
In the communications realm, Northern Kentucky is one of the country’s most wired communities due to its ultra-modern and ultra-important business infrastructure. It is a major node on the national digital “backbone” for ultra-high-speed internet and is ringed with fiber optics. Cincinnati Bell and Spectrum are two of the 20-plus communications providers in the region, resulting in healthy competition and good service.