Senate Majority Whip Brandon Smith spoke on several issues involving coal during the Bell County Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday. The most shocking news, according to Smith, involved the amount of coal mine closures in the region.
Smith said eastern Kentucky has always mined the majority of coal in Kentucky. He said the eastern part of the state typically mines 75 percent of the coal in Kentucky, while 25 percent is mined by the western part of the state.
Pikeville has been the largest coal producing county for a while as well, but Smith declared that is no longer the case. Smith said Union County, which is located in west Kentucky, is now the number one coal producing county in Kentucky.
“We have lost 312 coal mines,” said Smith. “We have gone from 75 percent down to 25 percent and dropping.”
Smith said the western part of the state is having the best coal season they’ve ever had. He also said the judges in western Kentucky have more money in their budget than ever before.
Smith commented on the fact eastern Kentucky has been through boom and bust before. Smith said that in the past the boom and bust were market driven, but now the current shortfalls in the the industry is government driven.
According to Smith, there were approximately 5,000 coal jobs lost.
“Nobody came to our aid as we lost these jobs. That’s the simple truth,” said Smith.
The world as a whole is using more coal than ever before, according to Smith. The world is also using coal in cleaner ways than before.
Smith spoke of a new process called chemical looping, which was invented at Ohio State University. The process releases power stored in coal through a chemical process. When the process is finished , there is no carbon dioxide.
Smith plans to make a pitch for a trial chemical looping plant to be put in the district. He stated he believes the procedure is the future.
“If you believe in Duke Energy’s report and Forbes magazine, coal will come back in about 10 years and it will come back in a very big way,” said Smith. “All that information is predicated on the back of what we are doing with the new technology.”
A piece of good news Smith offered during the luncheon involved a bill that has just been passed. Smith said he passed a biomass bill, which was a $300 million investment. He claimed biomass plants basically make power out of wood.
Smith said the plant passed its EPA permit. The new bill will help create 1,200 jobs.
Currently there are plans to put a biomass plant in Hazard, Pikeville and somewhere in the surrounding area of Bell and Harlan.
Smith said these jobs will provide the opportunity for people in the district to learn how to use technology that has rarely been used.
“As these things develop across the nation, it will be our men and women that will follow with them to help them set plants up,” said Smith.
Smith said one biomass plant creates 48 megawatts of power, which could power almost all of Bell County.
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