In Laudato Si’, the encyclical letter on care for our common home that Pope Francis promulgated in 2015, there are only three references to the term “fossil fuels.” Each of these — in paragraphs 23, 25 and 165 — is important and leads to a conclusion important to life here in Kentucky.
After pointing out that a number of scientific studies indicate that most recent global warming is “due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases,” the pope notes that this buildup is “aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels.”
Three paragraphs later, he notes that the emission of carbon dioxide and other polluting gases can be “drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.”
In his third reference, he concludes that “technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels — especially coal, but also oil, and to a lesser degree, gas — needs to be progressively replaced without delay.”
This is particularly important in a state like Kentucky which, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, ranks fifth in the nation for the percentage of energy derived from fossil fuels, the largest one being coal. Only 6% of Kentucky’s energy is derived from renewables — wind or solar. This needs drastic changing if the Laudato Si’ challenge of “without delay” is to be met.
Fortunately, as The Record has reported, the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center and several parish and school structures make use of renewable solar energy. Now, during this celebration of the Season of Creation begun Sept. 1 and ending Oct. 4, all Kentuckians have an opportunity to make a difference and hasten the day when our Commonwealth is far less dependent on fossil fuels.
The Kentucky Public Service Commission (PSC) is reviewing a proposal by Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities that in some ways is a move in the right direction. The utilities want to close four coal-fired plants and three natural gas combustion turbine units. They desire to replace them with two new natural gas combined cycle facilities, two solar facilities, one battery storage facility and four solar power-purchase agreements. They are also seeking approval of their Demand-Side Management and Energy Efficiency Program Plan.
While this proposal certainly appears to head in the right direction regarding the use of fossil fuels, it still maintains a strong attachment to natural gas at an estimated cost of $1.3 billion. And some scientists worry that the adoption of natural gas increases the amount of methane gas which is even more potent at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
The two proposed solar projects are estimated to cost a total of $450 million. A spokesperson for the Kentucky Solar Energy Society called this investment in solar a “drop in the bucket” in light of what utilities in other states invest in solar.
The Kentucky Resources Council, a non-profit organization that works to ensure that individuals impacted by environmental decisions have a voice in the policy-making process, is urging Kentuckians to submit comments to the PSC by an Oct. 4 deadline. You should include your name, address, and the case number: 2022-00402. Email PSC.email@example.com to let the PSC know how you feel you are impacted by this proposal.
Kentucky needs a clean, efficient and renewable energy future. To that end, the PSC could accept the closure of the coal-fired power plants, and not approve the building of the two new natural gas plants.
It makes more sense and is more in accord with Pope Francis’ teaching in Laudato Si’ to ask the PSC to tell LG&E and KU to invest in real energy efficiency using renewables like solar and wind. To that end, the PSC should approve the proposed solar and battery storage projects and ask the utilities to increase Demand-Side Management programs and distributed energy resources.
Submitting a comment to the PSC is a significant action during this Season of Creation.
Father Delahanty is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville.