If the energy bill passed overwhelmingly by the Kentucky House and Senate strictly were a Peabody Energy Corp. incentives bill, it still could be defended for what it has the potential to do for western Kentucky in terms of jobs, opportunity and economic development.
But the bill isn't just a Peabody bill. It contains other components that can move the state closer to the forefront of alternative fuels development greatly needed by the U.S.
The bill does make it possible for the state to extend millions of dollars worth of incentives to Peabody to build a $3 billion coal gasification plant in the state, with a good likelihood it will be built in western Kentucky and employ hundreds of people.
For that type of plant, the Legislative Research Commission estimates it would provide 1,750 construction jobs, 250 permanent jobs at the plant and 550 coal-mining jobs.
While a Peabody coal-to-natural gas plant would have a great appetite for western Kentucky coal, other coal companies could qualify for tax incentives for conversion plants as well. Still, other companies could receive incentives to pursue smaller projects, including biomass conversion plants and renewable-energy projects.
The bill includes money to study carbon dioxide capture technology, and research and development in biodiesel and ethanol production. It creates the Kentucky Alternative Fuel and Renewable Energy Program, which funds energy entrepreneurs.
Converting coal to other kinds of fuel almost certainly will be important for this nation in the coming decades. It makes sense to build coal-based alternative fuel plants in Kentucky because of the presence of extensive coal reserves. Incentive programs, while costly, have been used successfully here and across the state to bring in industry. For the jobs and economic development they produce, they remain a good investment.
The sprawling Toyota complex in Scott County is an example, but so are the industries in Owensboro's MidAmerica Airpark and the Kimberly-Clark plant in western Daviess County.
- Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro (Ky.)