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Hearing on December power outages highlights differences over energy policy

Josh James

Representatives with Kentucky Utilities, Boardwalk Pipelines, and the Tennessee Valley Authority all took turns answering questions about what caused rolling blackouts and service interruptions during the late December storm.

While Aaron Melda with TVA said its equipment had functioned at similar temperatures before, the sudden and dramatic drop in the mercury contributed to the outages.

Many Republicans on the committee put the blame squarely on Washington, arguing the drive to switch from coal to renewables left the state vulnerable.

"You had a setup there that left you without enough headroom on energy generation space that you'd have had plenty of energy for if you hadn't shut down coal operations in Muhlenburg County or elsewhere in the system," Sen. Whitney Westerfield told the TVA spokesman.

But Democratic Rep. Al Gentry noted that the reason for the renewable push is to try to prevent the more extreme weather associated with a changing climate.

"We're going to get these storms more often, I think we know that," the lawmaker said, asking how TVA plans to address infrastructure as stronger weather systems become more common.

Melda said short term actions have been taken, but much more remains to be done.

"Temporary things have been put in place to mitigate the specific event that we saw," Melda explained. "For extreme events in general, this is part of this after action review for us is looking at the underlying engineering design basis that these plants were constructed under, and determining that we have the right breadth of potential situations identified that could occur and that the design be changed such that we can be more robust in the future."

TVA did acknowledge communication failures with customers during the December event and promised those issues are also being reviewed.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.