The solar array at the E.W. Brown plant near Harrodsburg. | Courtesy of LG&E and KU

Environmental groups are pressing Louisville Metro Government to quit powering its operations with fossil fuels by 2030 — a target that raises a host of technical and economic questions, the city’s sole electric utility says.

Members of the Metro Council’s Parks and Sustainability Committee Thursday heard Nancy Givens make the pitch for a nonbinding resolution that sets a goal of 100 percent renewable-energy use by city government by 2030 and by the entire metro area by 2035.

“Our intent is not with the resolution to stop here but to then move to a specific plan to achieve 100 percent clean energy in Louisville,” said Givens, who represented proponents including 350.org, the Greater Louisville Sierra Club, Kentucky Interfaith Power & Light, the Louisville Climate Action Network and others.

A key U.N. panel warned last month that drastic changes to society were needed to stave off the worst effects of climate change. Although that report’s stark appraisal was echoed in a big U.S. government climate assessment released a week ago, President Donald Trump dismissed the assessment, and his administration has stepped back from efforts to fight climate change.

The Louisville coalition’s push comes as local governments aim to fill the gap in action opened by Washington, and Mayor Greg Fischer has joined other city leaders in committing to cutting heat-trapping emissions.

Givens said setting the target would bring benefits such as cleaner air and water and jobs in the fast-growing renewable energy sector, as well as attract new businesses and young people to the area.

The resolution was sponsored by Metro Council President David James, who joined committee members for portions of the hearing Thursday. Further discussion of the resolution, which doesn’t contain penalties for failure, is scheduled for Dec. 13.

David Sinclair, LG&E and KU’s vice president of Energy Supply and Analysis | Courtesy of LG&E and KU

LG&E and KU’s vice president of energy supply and analysis David Sinclair raised questions about the scope of the resolution and the feasibility of such a fast transformation.

“We at LG&E and KU are not opposed to renewable energy; we are not opposed to reducing CO2 emissions,” he said, noting parent company PPL Corp. has set a target for cutting emissions. “We have an obligation to provide power and gas to our customers at the lowest reasonable cost.”

Sinclair said it wasn’t clear just how the target could be met.

Proponents of the resolution have cited Google’s assertion that it gets 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, but Sinclair noted that doesn’t mean the internet giant is directly powering all its servers with solar panels and wind turbines. Google says it gets power off the grid and cuts purchasing deals to make sure the equivalent amount of juice is provided somewhere by renewable energy.

For Louisville to meet its annual energy demand, Sinclair said, a fifth of Jefferson County’s land area would be needed for solar farms.

“So that raises the question,” he said. “If you’re going to what Google wants to do, do you want to do it in Jefferson County, or do you want to do it someplace else?”

Also unclear, he said, was the resolution’s opposition to all new fossil-fuel fuel infrastructure. “Would that mean the council would be opposing, say, gasoline stations, jet-fuel infrastructure at the airport, etc.?”

Wallace McMullin, the co-chair of the Greater Louisville Sierra Club, said the focus isn’t on gas stations but on halting development of new, large-scale natural-gas power generation and the like.

“We’re not trying to ban coal barges from coming down the Ohio River,” he said ahead of the hearing. “We hope the market for coal barges goes away.”

The city’s economic development division, which includes the Office of Sustainability, stopped short of endorsing the resolution.

“We are very supportive of renewable efforts. There are some challenges that we have. … Without further discussion with both sides of the issue, I’m not going to be able to answer that question right here, right now,” Jeff O’Brien, director of Develop Louisville, said when asked if the office backs the resolution.

Mark R. Long

Mark R. Long

Louisville native Mark Long is glad to be home after 18+ years away in New York and London. He’s putting his writing and editing experience at The Wall Street Journal to work as a freelancer, digging into stories on infrastructure, transportation, urban design and ecology.