Grazing In The Grass: An Old-Fashioned Idea Holds New Promise For Sustainable Farming Monday, Aug 22 2016 

On 120 acres in Marion, Kentucky, small-scale farmer Joseph Mast is taking an innovative approach to provide for his growing family of nine.

Mast belongs to an Amish community and is reluctant when it comes to media. He makes a concession, however, when the conversation involves sustainable farming.

“I’ll talk grass any day,” said Mast.

Mast is a grass farmer using something called high intensity grazing, also known as rotational grazing. Herds of animals are left to graze on a small area of pasture, but moved several times a day to new forage, mimicking the way grasslands and grazers naturally interacted long ago.

Rotational grazing conflicts with conventional thinking on livestock and overgrazing. The theory has always been that too many animals on a plot will trample and destroy fertile grounds. But Mast sees evidence that the practice is working and he believes that his small farm is becoming a part of much larger solution for sustainable agriculture.

It’s a lot of work. Intensive grazing requires him to move his 20 cattle up to 6 times a day. But before Mast began this more intensive management style he was working even harder. Much of his energy was spent growing grain to feed his animals and earning additional income for medicine to treat livestock diseases such as foot rot, pink eye and worms. Since he began relying on his farm’s grasses, he says his cattle and land are more resilient to disease and drought.

“That drought we had in 2012, a lot of people were feeding hay, I never ran out of grass,” Mast said.

marionAlexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

Livestock And Living Soil

The concept seems fairly simple.

After the animals have eaten about half of the grasses in one area, they are moved to another. The grasses provide natural feed for the animals and their manure fertilizes the soil. The “hoof action” of the animals gently tramples the ground, increasing the soil’s ability to hold water.

As the livestock move along, the grasses begin to grow again and their root systems do as well, locking into the ground and reducing erosion. The larger plants create a cover, sheltering the micro-organisms that feed off the manure.

rotational-grazing-flowchart-v3Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

What was just dirt becomes healthy organic matter, soil that invites other beneficial organisms. Mast has found that this reduces his dependence on expensive medicine to treat livestock for things such as parasitic worms.

“I don’t worm period,” Mast said. “No wormers, that’s harmful to the dung beetles.”

The dung beetle is just one part of a process in fly and parasite control. Dung beetles dry up manure patties that would otherwise be breeding grounds for fly larvae, which spread disease. Dry up the dung, you dry up the larvae.

“There are different kinds, there’s one called a roller,” Mast explained. He’s become a close observer of the tiniest parts of his farm’s ecosystem.“ They will take the fresh dung and roll up their egg and put it down that hole and that’s for their young to feed off. And if it rots down there, its fertilizer for the grass underneath,” he said.

Outstanding In His Field

When Mast looks out at his farm, he says the land speaks to him. It has always, but he hasn’t always understood.

“That’s the biggest issue, I mean it’s not easy. It’s a learning curve in this,” Mast said. “Years ago I wouldn’t see any of that [grass diversity] or I might not have been looking for them either. But, try to work with nature and she will work with you.”

Introducing other animals to the pasture helps too, because many harmful organisms only affect specific animals.

“If a cow eats a parasite from the sheep that’s the end to that thing, you see it doesn’t pass on through, it can’t multiply,” Mast said.

As Mast explores his farm, doing what he calls a “pasture walk,” he moves from plot to plot pointing out the growth in grass diversity.

Mast says the variety of grasses on his farm has increased with rotational grazing, benefiting his animals.Nicole Erwin | Ohio Valley ReSource

Mast says the variety of grasses on his farm has increased with rotational grazing, benefiting his animals.

“Last week I was out in my field and come up with 15 different species of grasses without even trying to look,” he said.

This diversity in grasses allows him to graze longer into the winter without feeding them hay.

Mast’s acreage isn’t limited to grasslands. Walk to the back of the farm and you will find four wooded acres, subdivided into 16 paddocks. He has sectioned off the forest to the hickory trees to work feeding his hogs.

“Something the hogs relish is the hickory nuts. They will crunch them down just like candy,” Mast said.

The hickory nuts and the grasses are all free. Like many small-scale farmers, Mast finds it tough to compete with the larger farms. Rotational grazing proponents argue that this approach can help level the playing field.

Mast's hogs feed on hickory nuts in the wood lot.Nicole Erwin | Ohio Valley ReSource

Mast’s hogs feed on hickory nuts in the wood lot.

Farm To Classroom

Murray State University Animal Equine Science Chair O.L. Robertson became a “stockman” because he had grown up mostly raising tobacco on his family farm in west Tennessee. Pretty much anything is better than working in a tobacco patch, according to Robertson. That was around 60 years ago. Robertson said he didn’t become a real stockman until the last 15 years when he began paying attention to the interactions between the livestock and the plants they forage upon.

“Sometimes you have to look backward to be able to see forward, and the further back you can go the further forward you can see,” Robertson said in his gentle Kentucky drawl. “How we do things today, those animals aren’t capable of the migrations that they were in those days.”

Robertson is talking about prehistoric herds, like bison, that used to roam freely on prairies before the animals were hunted to near extinction and the land was divided by ownership. He believes it was those interactions among animals, plants, and soil that formed the deep, rich soils that we have available to us today. He is doing what he can to mimic those interactions via high intensity grazing with the hope of passing on the information to the next generation.

Robertson has been heavily influenced by another ecosystem grassland pioneer, Allan Savory. The South African born biologist has won wide acclaim for his idea that high intensity grazing is more than just sustainable farming, that it is actually a solution to climate change.

Robertson shows a video of a Savory TED Talk to his students each semester, in which Savory takes the grazing message to a much larger scale – fighting desertification, or the drying up of Earth’s soil. The United Nations says that the world is losing 57 acres of arable land to desertification every minute.

Savory believes that by replenishing the plant life with high intensity grazing, we are also able to trap carbon dioxide in the grassland roots, counteracting the climate-harming methane production associated with herds of livestock. In essence, using cows to combat climate change.

Pastures For Profit

All of this raises a question: If this simple grazing practice is so beneficial at so many levels, why aren’t more people implementing the system?

“Rotational grazing is not something that grabs the attention of university researchers,” Robertson answered. He said part of the reason that there is not yet a robust body of science behind the idea is because academic study often follows available funding.

“There is not a company that is really pushing this that is willing to put research dollars into a university to obtain the data,” he said.

Rotational grazing doesn’t require herbicides and pesticides that can be offered by a company looking for product support. That’s because the only thing needed to structure a rotational grazing pattern is some good polywire.

“We can take a 100 acres and split it up into 10 paddocks and we may even need to subdivide those paddocks, but we do that with one single strand of polywire,” Robertson said.

Farmers have enough to worry about competing in an already saturated market, explains Robertson, and eliminating costs by relying on resources that are readily available just makes sense.

“The easiest dollar you will ever make is the one you don’t spend,” said Robertson.

High intensity grazing isn’t high in spending. While it is viewed as labor intensive, Robertson and Mast say it’s really intensive management, respecting the animals and the earth by working smarter, not harder. It might even be saving the planet.

“Man has thought he was so smart, and that we don’t need all this, but actually we hurt ourselves if we try to work against nature,” Mast said.

Urban Heat Study Author Defends Work Against GLI Comments Friday, Aug 19 2016 

The author of a landmark study on Louisville’s urban heat island is responding to criticism from the city’s chamber of commerce.

In eight pages of comments on the analysis of the city’s urban heat island, Greater Louisville Inc. slammed the study’s methodology and said it didn’t provide enough evidence to justify any new regulations. The comments were first reported Monday by The Courier-Journal.

The urban heat island study was written by Brian Stone of Georgia Tech and released in April. He was commissioned by the city to study the heat island, which has been characterized as one of the fastest-growing in the nation.

The term “heat island” refers to a difference in temperatures between a city’s urban core and surrounding countryside.

Stone’s study lays out specific neighborhood-level solutions for cooling parts of Louisville. It quantifies the number of trees, cool roofs and cool parking lots the data analysis deems necessary to slow the city’s warming and — in the process — reduce the number of possible deaths and health problems due to extreme heat.

But the comments from a Greater Louisville Inc. subcommittee take issue with multiple aspects of Stone’s analysis, ultimately arguing the study isn’t sound enough to serve as the basis for new city-wide policies. GLI said it would support certain incentives to increase the number of businesses with lighter-colored roofs or parking lots, for instance, but didn’t find the justification for any new regulations.

GLI spokeswoman Alison Brotzge-Elder declined an opportunity to elaborate for this story, saying the organization’s comments speak for themselves.

But for his part, Stone said GLI’s comments miss the mark.

“We very much welcome these kinds of comments — that’s the purpose of having the open comment period,” he said. “My concern is that they misconstrue some really fundamental components of the study.”

In an interview with WFPL News, Stone said the urban heat island analysis is a study and not a plan. He said it would be inappropriate to include such components as a cost-benefit analysis. The study’s lack of any consideration of economic factors was a major point in the GLI comments.

“They characterize in their comments the study as a plan, as if we’ve handed over a blueprint for the city to just run with now. And that’s actually not the case,” Stone said. “This is the foundational data that we would like the city to consider in terms of developing and proposing policies and ultimately formulating a plan. But the study itself is not a plan. It’s simply an analysis of how different types of strategies could cool down the city.”

GLI also criticized the study’s reliance on data from the summer of 2012 — the hottest Louisville summer on record. Stone defended the choice, saying in a region expected to experience an increasing number of above-average summer temperatures, the summer of 2012 is a reasonable basis.

“If you want to get a sense of how effective strategies will be down the road, you need to choose a hot summer,” he said.

In its comments, GLI said it recognizes the urban heat island is a quality-of-life issue. Seemingly without irony, it lauds the city’s public-private partnerships to make Louisville “a hotbed for economic development and a talented workforce.” It adds that the study “forms a basis for beginning a public discussion” but “lacks sufficient analysis to form the basis for policy-making.”

As far as Stone is concerned, his Louisville study is complete.

“I think to suggest that the study is wrongheaded or not in the best interest of the region is taking a very short-term view,” he said. “We know we’re going to need to respond to the challenges of heat, and we also know that it will take many years to do that. So this is something that Louisville needs to get started with right away, and so that’s what the data is there to help support.”

Now, it’s up to Metro government to take the study and the 21 comments it received during the comment period and develop a plan to implement some — or none, or all — of Stone’s recommendations.

New Site Offers (Almost) Real-Time Data From Louisville Air Monitors Wednesday, Aug 17 2016 

Ever wonder how the air quality varies across Louisville?

Now there’s an easy way to find out. The Louisville Metro Air Pollution Control District is providing almost real-time data from the city’s network of air monitors on the web.

The new site — which the district is calling Louisville Air Watch — works sort of like the federal government’s AirNow website. The latter allows people to check a city’s air quality index and see details about how much ozone or particulate matter is in the air.

The city-wide numbers collect and combine data from across Louisville. If you want to take a deeper dive, that’s where Louisville Air Watch comes in. The site allows users to zoom in on an individual air monitor and see the latest data it collected.

“It’s not to say this is going to be the exact air quality where you live, but it’s going to give you a pretty good idea of what the air quality is like in your area,” said APCD spokesman Tom Nord.

The monitors all track different pollutants — some just look at ozone while others measure other pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter. Others also measure precipitation and wind speed and direction.

The data isn’t exactly real-time, but generally updates every hour or so.

Nord said knowing the general air quality index will be sufficient for most people, so they can make informed decisions about how much time to spend outside when the air is unhealthy.

“But we feel this is an extra step to sort of give people who want to dive deeper into this information a more detailed picture of the air quality,” he said.

Check out Louisville Air Watch here.

Despite Industry Losses, Coal Permits Still Strong In Kentucky Monday, Aug 15 2016 

Over the past decade, the news about Kentucky’s coal industry has been reliably bad. The latest numbers show the state is mining the smallest amount of coal since about 1934, and there are fewer coal miners employed here than anytime in the 20th century.

Despite these realities, there are still a surprisingly large number of active coal mines in Kentucky. As of last month, there were more than 2,000 coal mine permits in the commonwealth, and just over half of them were characterized as one of the state’s several “active” statuses.

This doesn’t, however, speak to how much coal was removed or how many coal miners were employed at these mines, though the mechanization of the industry over the past few decades has meant companies can extract more coal with fewer workers.

Check out this map, and explore the different filtering options to see what kinds of permits there are:

Here’s some more information about how and where Kentucky coal is mined, and how much money is currently bonded to reclaim all those mine sites:

Where Lead Lurks And Why Even Small Amounts Matter Friday, Aug 12 2016 

Lead problems with the water in Flint, Mich., have prompted people across the country to ask whether they or their families have been exposed to the toxic metal in their drinking water, too.

When it comes to assessing the risk, it’s important to look in the right places.

Even when municipal water systems’ lead levels are considered perfectly fine by federal standards, the metal can leach into tap water from lead plumbing.

Kate Gilles moved to Washington, D.C., from Rhode Island for a job in international public health six years ago. When she was pregnant with her son, now 3, and her daughter, who turned 1 in July, she says she paid close attention to her health.

She ate better. She exercised. She followed her doctor’s orders. Gilles checked off every task on the long list of things that she was supposed to do to help protect her babies.

But that was before Flint, and it never occurred to her to test her drinking water for lead.

No one — not her pediatrician, not authorities at her local water utility and not the realtor who sold her the home she lives in — suggested that she might have a problem with lead.

In April, she learned that her home is one of more than an estimated 6 million in America that gets its water delivered through a lead service line.

When There’s Lead Underground

When there is a problem with lead in drinking water, service lines are the most likely culprit. Service lines are like tiny straws that carry water from a utility’s water main, usually running below the street, to each building.

In older cities, many of them in the Midwest and Northeast, these service lines can be made of pure lead.

Wherever lead service lines are in place, there is a risk of water contamination. The toxic metal can leach into the water whenever something jostles the pipes, like nearby construction, a heavy truck coming down the road or when the water just sits still for too long.

Civil engineer Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech professor who helped document the lead problems with water in Flint, calls lead service lines “ticking time bombs.”

The Risks Of Low-Level Lead Exposure

Dr. Bruce Lanphear has spent decades researching low-level lead exposure, and his work is often cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He says that while blood lead levels have been reduced drastically in recent decades, even levels as low as 5 micrograms per deciliter can lower IQs and increase the risk of attention and behavioral problems in children. For adults, lead exposure can cause kidney problems and high blood pressure.

Because it would be unethical to expose people to a known toxin, clear data are lacking on exactly how much lead a person must be exposed to before it shows up in the blood or triggers health and behavioral problems. Public health officials say that removing all lead from a person’s environment is the best course of action.

Wherever lead service lines or other lead plumbing fixtures exist, there are precautions people can take to protect themselves — if they know they are at risk. They can flush their pipes every morning. They can purchase a filter certified for lead removal. Ultimately, they can replace lead service lines and lead plumbing in the house, though those replacements can be costly.

Still, there aren’t any federal notification laws for the presence of lead plumbing as there are for lead paint. Checking the service line isn’t part of typical home inspections. Landlords aren’t required to warn tenants about lead pipes, and realtors don’t need to tell potential buyers.

Gilles, who has a master’s degree in public health, said she felt silly for not looking into lead risks from pipes. “But I also feel really angry that there’s nothing that flags it for homeowners,” she says.

Lead Regulations: ‘Illusion Of Safety’ Or Protection?

After learning that her house has lead pipes, she ordered a test kit from DC Water, the local authority. When she got the results, she was more confused than relieved. The test showed 0.7 parts per billion of lead in the water, far below the EPA’s so-called action level, set at 15 parts per billion.

But what did the results mean? “I’m marveling at the total lack of lucidity of this letter,” she says. “Because it doesn’t say whether or not we need to be concerned. I’m guessing that the EPA decided that the margin of safety was this 15 parts per billion, and we’re under that.”

Except that isn’t at all what the EPA decided.

The EPA seeks to control lead in the drinking water with its Lead and Copper Rule, created in 1991. The rule says that, depending on factors like how big a city is and how long it has been since high lead levels were last detected, water utilities have to test the water in between 50 and 100 homes with lead service lines every six months to nine years.

If 90 percent of homes have lead below the 15 parts per billion action level, the water utility passes the test. Nothing has to change. If the utility fails the test, it has to take follow-up action, including more testing and possibly changing water treatment methods.

But, critics say, there are several problems with the EPA’s rule. For one, the most severe cases are essentially tossed out of the utilities’ reports.

Also, according to the EPA’s own research, the current lead sampling protocol requires water be collected immediately after the water has been stagnant for six hours. That means they are likely capturing the water that has been sitting inside the house, rather than the water that has been sitting in the lead service line. In other words, the utilities aren’t capturing the full extent of the problem.

In addition, critics say, the EPA’s trigger for action — or so-called action level — is set too high, at 15 parts per billion of lead in the water. Too many test results above that threshold are a red flag for water utilities, a sign that they might have a lead problem.

The number is often cited as a threshold for public health, but no amount of lead is considered safe for human consumption.

Jeff Cohen helped develop the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule back in the late ’80s. He says that the action level didn’t come from medical research; it came from water utilities.

“It was based on the little data that was available at that time from water utilities in the U.S. that had installed different levels of corrosion control treatment,” he says.

Cohen points to the goal written into the rule, which is zero lead in drinking water. The action level, he says, is “not really designed to identify a safe level of lead in drinking water. It’s simply one of many pieces of data that should be used to determine whether corrosion control treatment is working or not.”

In June, the American Academy of Pediatrics called on federal regulators to tighten lead oversight, including lowering the action level. The Academy claimed that lead thresholds are set too high, they aren’t based on science, and they create an “illusion of safety.” Dr. Lanphear was the lead author on the AAP policy.

“We’ve consistently said that no level of lead is safe,” says Joel Beauvias, the deputy assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water. He said that the 15 parts per billion action level isn’t meant to be a threshold for public health.

The Safe Drinking Water Act says that the rule has to be updated every six years. The agency has been discussing possible revisions since 2010 and is looking at making improvements to the rule. But an agency spokesperson said it is too early to speculate on exactly what the agency will propose or when.

While the ultimate fix would be to replace all lead service lines and lead plumbing, that’s a daunting task. In the meantime, there is a call for greater transparency about where lead service lines are in use so that people can reduce their risks.

The EPA wrote governors in February across the country encouraging, but not requiring, disclosure.

After multiple inquiries from NPR, D.C.’s water utility published a map of the lead service lines it knows about. The map is incomplete; there are more than 13,000 homes on the map that may or may not have lead pipes. Still, the map gives residents — particularly renters — easier access to the utility’s records. In most cities, the information is still considered private and available only to the person paying the water bill.

George Hawkins, the general manager for DC Water, said it is in everyone’s best interest to make lead service line inventories public. The information helps homeowners manage risks in the short term and can encourage them to replace lead service lines.

Although lead levels have gone down significantly in D.C. since the 2004 crisis, the majority of homes the utility has tested in recent years have still shown small amounts of lead in the water — 1 or 2 parts per billion.

Hawkins says that might be a problem for certain households. “Were I [in] a household with a wife who was pregnant or small children, I’d want that number at zero or as close to zero as it can be,” Hawkins said.

Gillis decided that even small amounts of sporadic lead release weren’t OK for her two children. She and her husband decided to have their lead service line replaced in May. It cost them $1,400.

She’s had both of her children tested for lead and is reassured by the results. But she’s still angry that no one told her about the lead service line — or the potential risk — earlier.

“The argument can be made that the onus was on us,” she says. “But we didn’t even know to look at it. This should really be the duty, the responsibility of the government.”

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Study Finds Widespread Contamination Of Ohio Valley Drinking Water Tuesday, Aug 9 2016 

A study of drinking water systems found 6 million Americans, including people in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio, are living with drinking water containing chemicals linked to a host of health problems.

The Harvard Chan School of Public Health published research in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters that delves into thousands of drinking water samples from across the nation. Researchers looked for certain chemicals – called “perfluorinated” compounds – which are linked to cancer and other health problems. We’ve been using these chemicals for decades in food wrappers, clothing, carpets, and on nonstick pots and pans.

Researcher Laurel Schaider of the Silent Spring Institute in Newton, Massachusetts, noted where concentrations were highest, and what possible sources of contamination exist.

“We found that water supplies close to industry, airports, and wastewater treatment facilities were more likely to have perfluorinated chemicals,” she said.

Contamination of water supplies was most prevalent in 13 states including Ohio. Chemicals were also detectable in Kentucky as well as in West Virginia.

PFASThe Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Schaider said a contamination incident in Ohio and West Virginia a decade ago first pointed to health concerns related to this class of chemicals. In 2005 it came to light that the chemical company DuPont contaminated water sources in the Ohio Valley with a perfluorinated chemical called “PFOA” or “C8”. A lawsuit on behalf of affected residents established a broad medical study, which Schaider says paved the way for further science.

“A lot of what we know about the human health effects of PFOA come from the Ohio River Valley and the C8 study,” she said. “Over 30,000 community members were involved in a health study and the results showed that there were six health effects that were linked to their PFOA exposure.”

Kidney and testicular cancer, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and thyroid disease are some of the maladies that were linked to exposure of PFOA.

A second Harvard study released together with the drinking water survey results builds on that growing body of research into health effects.

That study was led by Philippe Grandjean, who has become one of the foremost experts on health effects of these chemicals. Grandjean’s study looked at long-term effects of perfluorinated chemicals on the immune systems of exposed children. He said it takes years to pass the chemicals out of your system.

“Therefore it’s also plausible [that] while they harm the immune system today, they probably also will down the road, and that’s also what we found,” he said.

Seven years ago the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued a health advisory for anyone with short-term exposure to PFOA. The agency followed up this May with a long-term health. Towns across the country in states including Vermont, Alabama, Michigan, and West Virginia are all adjusting water systems to meet the new suggested threshold. Grandjean said the EPA’s advisory is a step in the right direction, but more action is required.

“The new water limits will essentially maintain status quo or if worse comes to worse, actually increase levels that are typical for Americans,” he explained. “If you drink that a lot of that water that is permissible, many Americans are likely to increase their body burden.”

In the Ohio Valley community of Vienna, West Virginia, residents like Dr. Paul Brooks have been living for decades with C8 levels in their drinking water above EPA’s long-term exposure health advisory. When EPA announced the advisory this summer, construction soon began to add filters to the local water system. Brooks said he still doesn’t trust the water or the EPA’s advisory.

“With the science that keeps coming out – it need to be a lot lower,” he said.

Dr. Brooks is a physician who helped set up the original C8 study in the area, drawing samples and taking health surveys from thousands of Ohio Valley residents.

“With as much saturation as we have here in the environment, engineers have already estimated it’s going to take 200 years of filtration to get it out of the water,” he said.

Brooks said health effects have been documented at levels lower than the EPA’s recommended standard. And for chronic exposure, he worries about how the chemical might build up, or bio-accumulate in the body. He uses an activated carbon filter in his home to filter out PFOA. Brooks said he thinks every drop of water in the region needs to be filtered.

Commission Adopts Stricter Rules For Biodigesters In Louisville Thursday, Aug 4 2016 

Louisville’s Planning Commission has approved rules governing the siting of anerobic biodigesters in the city. The regulations approved Thursday were stricter than what planners had originally proposed, but won’t be finalized until they’re approved by Metro Council.

Biodigesters take organic waste — like food — and turn it into natural gas. The proposal originally would have limited those facilities to industrial areas (including those zoned C-M, M-1, M-2, M-3 and EZ-1) with conditional use permits. They wouldn’t be allowed closer than a quarter mile to houses, schools, parks or similar facilities.

But after a public meeting earlier this week, the planning commission amended the regulations. Kentucky Resources Council Director Tom FitzGerald argued that biodigesters should be limited to M-3 zones, and shouldn’t be within a half mile of homes. That half-mile distance could be shortened to a quarter-mile under appropriate circumstances, he said.

The Planning Commission adopted FitzGerald’s suggestions, as well as making changes in the way biodigester facilities will comply with local air pollution regulations.

The reason the city is even considering the rules is because of two controversial projects that were proposed and then scuttled over the past year. Companies proposed two biodigesters in neighborhoods of Louisville’s West End, and ultimately pulled the plug after residents raised concerns about safety and potential odors from the facilities.

Attorney Brian Zoeller represented STAR BioEnergy — the company that planned to build a biodigester next to the Heaven Hill distillery in the California neighborhood. He submitted comments on the proposed regulations earlier this week, but said he did so in his capacity as a private attorney. On Monday, he said he believed the original regulations — which are now even stricter — would be a deterrent to companies thinking about building biodigesters in the county.

“I think it is a significant risk that a digester would not get developed in Jefferson County because of this rule,” he said. “And that is what some people want, unfortunately.”

FitzGerald and others argued the most appropriate place for biodigesters is in very industrial areas, like in the land near the Outer Loop landfill.

The regulations now go to Metro Council for approval.

For Some In Kentucky, Community Solar Could Be A New Option Wednesday, Aug 3 2016 

Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities are planning a new way to offer solar energy to residential customers.

The utilities are seeking permission from the Kentucky Public Service Commission to build a 4 megawatt community solar field in Shelby County. LG&E and KU ratepayers who want solar energy, but for whatever reason can’t install it on their own properties, can pay a fee for a share of the solar field and get a credit on their utility bills for the solar energy that share generates.

“We continue to see an increased interest from customers for renewable energy,” said LG&E spokeswoman Liz Pratt. “If this were to be approved, this type of program is ideal for customers who want to support local solar energy but are unable to install it on their own property or would prefer to avoid upfront or long-term costs. It’s especially appealing for renters or those customers who may have properties predominantly in shade or may have deed restrictions.”

Participating customers will pay a $40 one-time fee, and then pay a monthly fee of $6.29 per 250-watt increment. That size of an investment is expected to produce between 17 and 37 kilowatt hours of energy per month. The company says the typical household uses about 1,000 kilowatt hours of energy each month.

The project won’t have any effect on ratepayers who don’t participate in the program. Pratt says the community solar field will be built in 500 kilowatt sections, and construction won’t begin on each section until there’s adequate interest from subscribers. Interested customers can fill out a form online, but there’s no commitment until the Public Service Commission rules on the project.

LG&E and KU unveiled the company’s first utility-scale solar field earlier this year, adjacent to the E.W. Brown Power Station in Mercer County. The 10 megawatt array has been fully operational since June. The utilities also announced a business and industrial solar program earlier this summer.

The companies’ current generation mix is about 65 percent coal, 34 percent natural gas and one percent renewable energy.

Are Proposed Biodigester Rules Too Strict Or Not Strict Enough? Monday, Aug 1 2016 

The public will have a chance to weigh in on Louisville’s proposed biodigester regulations at a meeting Monday evening.

The regulations were sparked by two proposed projects on Louisville’s West End last year: one in the Russell neighborhood, and one in the California neighborhood.

Anerobic biodigesters take organic waste — like food or manure — and convert it to methane gas. The project’s organizers touted the technology as an ideal way to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in the city’s landfill, as well as a renewable way to create natural gas. But residents in both neighborhoods opposed the plans, citing worries about safety and odors, as well as the facilities’ proximity to homes.

Ultimately, both projects were cancelled.

Under the proposed rules, biodigesters would be allowed in the city only in industrially-zoned locations that are at least a quarter mile from homes, churches and schools. They would also be allowed on legitimate agricultural operations.

According to the map released by Louisville’s Office of Planning and Design Services, this would limit most potential biodigester locations to several areas in Rubbertown and along the Ohio River in the southwestern part of the city, a large parcel near the airport and landfill and various agricultural locations near the southern and eastern borders of the county.

But those who originally advocated both for and against the biodigester projects see pitfalls with the proposed regulations. Louisville attorney Brian Zoeller and Kentucky Resource Council Director Tom FitzGerald both submitted comments to the city’s planning commission prior to Monday’s meeting.

Zoeller represented STAR BioEnergy — the company that planned to build a biodigester next to the Heaven Hill distillery in the California neighborhood — but said he submitted the comments in his capacity as a private attorney. He said STAR doesn’t have any other pending contracts for biodigesters in Louisville right now.

“I think it is a significant risk that a digester would not get developed in Jefferson County because of this rule,” he said of the proposed regulation. “And that is what some people want, unfortunately.”

Zoeller says the half-mile buffer in the city’s proposal is unworkable. He proposes that Louisville allow biodigesters within 300 feet of homes in areas zoned M-2 and M-3, if the projects first obtain conditional use permits. For enterprise zones — EZ-1 — he suggests that the city only allow “accessory use” biodigesters that process materials generated on site.

“I think that would be a significant negative development for the city, to kind of turn away a green renewable energy project,” Zoeller said. “I think it would significantly hamper the city’s sustainability goals of diverting significant amounts of material from the landfill.”

But while Zoeller says the proposed rules are too restrictive, FitzGerald, on behalf of his organization’s members, says they aren’t strict enough.

“Unfortunately, the proposal thus far would result in a proliferation of those [biodigester] facilities potentially, as opposed to greater control over the siting, the location and the potential risks posed by such facilities,” FitzGerald said.

The language currently in Louisville’s code restricts to M-3 industrial zones. FitzGerald says the draft rules expand the number of places companies could place biodigesters, which goes against the regulation’s intent.

FitzGerald’s letter also recommends the buffer area between biodigesters and homes be doubled — to a default distance of a half mile, which can be loosened to no less than a quarter mile depending on the circumstances.

He said an ideal location for a large biodigester in Louisville is on the Grade Lane side of the Outer Loop landfill.

“You have an area that’s buffered, you have an area that is industrial in nature, that is distant from residential properties, that you currently have a waste stream,” he said. “Half of Metro Louisville’s garbage is going to the Outer Loop landfill.”

The Planning Commission will hold a public meeting on the draft regulations Monday at 6 p.m. in the Old Jail Auditorium. The commission will then make a recommendation to Metro Council for final action.

Analysis Recommends Closing Western Kentucky Coal Plant Thursday, Jul 28 2016 

A non-profit is recommending a Kentucky coal plant retire sooner than planned.

The Elmer Smith plant in Owensboro is old — it initially went into service in 1964. And over the past few years, it’s become a target for environmental groups, who point to the plant’s age and emissions, saying the upgrades it would take to comply with upcoming pollution regulations make it uneconomical to keep burning coal there.

At the request of the Sierra Club, the non-profit Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis studied several documents from Owensboro Municipal Utilities, which owns and operates the Elmer Smith plant. IEEFA concluded that retiring the plant’s two units sooner rather than later would be the least-cost option for ratepayers, and urged the utility to consider replacing the capacity with renewable energy.

Among the problems IEEFA Director of Resource Planning David Schissel flagged in his analysis of Elmer Smith was that the area’s demand for electricity has remained relatively flat since 2004. So since then, the plant has been producing more power than it needs to supply its ratepayers. OMU sells the excess power on the wholesale market, but for only a fraction of its cost.

“I never went to business school, but the general comment is the way to make money is to buy low and sell high,” Schissel said. “Here, they’re buying high and selling low.”

Schissel said it would make sense for OMU to shut down Unit 1 by 2019 — which is what the utility is tentatively planning. He also recommends Unit 2 be shut down by 2022, but preferably sooner.

OMU spokeswoman Sonya Dixon said a shut-down of Unit 2 in 2022 is what the utility is considering, but nothing has been finalized.

“I think we do know that we’re going to have to change our portfolio,” she said. “But I think we’re considering all of the options before us. We do anticipate big changes and we’re preparing for those.”

Schissel’s findings also include steep increases in the rates that OMU customers will pay if both units aren’t retired. According to the IEEFA analysis, rates will increase by 20 percent as soon as 2018, and 80 percent by 2025 if both units are still burning coal.

State data show the average residential electricity price in Owensboro in 2014 was 10.45 cents per kilowatt hour, or slightly more than the state average of 10.05 cents per kilowatt hour.

The retirement of aging coal plants isn’t a uniquely Kentucky phenomenon; around the country, utilities are making economic calculations about whether it makes economic sense to install environmental controls to keep using the fuel. But in a state where coal still generates about 87 percent of electricity, Kentucky is taking a large hit.

At least 35 percent of Kentucky’s coal fleet circa 2011 has already been retired or has announced plans to retire by 2020.

“I think that’s what’s happened with the Elmer Smith plant is what’s happening to a lot of coal plants around the United States,” Schissel said. “It’s not Obama’s war on coal, it’s not the federal government’s war on coal, it’s the market. It’s the free, competitive market.”

Dixon said it’s a safe assumption that OMU will not replace the coal-fired units at Elmer Smith with more coal, but she said the utility hadn’t yet decided how to replace the capacity.

She denied charges in Schissel’s analysis that OMU has dismissed the possibility of bringing renewable energy into its portfolio. The report urges OMU to consider forgoing natural gas for wind or solar energy.

“I want to make it clear that we have not ruled out renewables and we’re still considering those and they are still part of our ongoing analysis,” Dixon said. “But at this point they’ve not risen to the top. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be part of that overall power supply strategy.”

Ultimately, the decision of when to retire Elmer Smith — and what to replace it with — will be up to the Owensboro Utility Commission. As a municipal utility, OMU isn’t subject to Kentucky’s Public Service Commission.

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