Kentucky considered for near billion-dollar investment in renewable energy projects

Published 2:14 pm Monday, March 25, 2024

If all goes to plan, Kentucky may be the recipient of a near-billion dollar federal investment into greener economic development.

Monday, Gov. Andy Beshear announced that the Department of Energy has selected Kentucky for five potential projects aimed at reducing emissions in the industrial sector.

The $961 million in proposed investment comes from the DOE’s Industrial Demonstrations Program, funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act.

Over the past decades, Kentucky has suffered from the loss of coal and steel jobs, particularly in Eastern Kentucky. Beshear said these projects have the potential to be “game changers.”

“It truly shows that we are committed to bringing prosperity to every corner of the Commonwealth, especially parts that have been too often left out,” he said.

Selected projects are now in award negotiations with the U.S. Department of Energy.

Project 1: Green aluminum smelter

Northeastern Kentucky is “at the top of the list” as a potential site for the first green aluminum smelter in the world, and the first new U.S. primary aluminum smelter in nearly half a century.

Century Aluminum Co. is deciding where to locate with the up to $500 million DOE initial grant.

Beshear said it “could be the largest investment on record in Eastern Kentucky.”

The smelter would use carbon-free energy to double the size of the U.S. aluminum industry, while avoiding an estimated 75% of traditional smelters’ emissions.

This greener aluminum could be used for national defense, electric vehicles, semiconductors, building and construction and other green energy applications.

If chosen, the project would bring 5,500 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent jobs to northeastern Kentucky. United Steelworkers would work to hire those displaced during America’s energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources.

Beshear said the current budget’s closing funds for economic development projects, passed by the 2022 General Assembly, may be just what they need to close the deal.

“There’s still a lot of steps that we need to take to make this a reality,” he said. “But this is the first important step.”

Project 2: Copper scrap metal recycling

Wieland North America Recycling is planning to use up to $270 million in DOE funds for the largest investment in Shelby County history.

The project would expand copper scrap metal recycling processing technology. It would allow Wieland to convert copper and other scrap metal into high-purity copper to be used in electric vehicles and semiconductors.

“As a 200 year old company, we pride ourselves on sustainability and our sustainability goals are very well aligned with both the Department of Energy and Kentucky,” said Matt Bedingfield, Wieland recycling unit president.

If finalized, the project would create up to 200 permanent jobs, locally sourced. Wieland plans to partner with Kentucky State University and Simmons College to develop an internship for underrepresented STEM students.

Project 3: Renewable-powered heat batteries

Diageo Americas Supply Inc. is partnering with Rondo Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to develop heat batteries powered by renewable energy.

These batteries would be used for “deep decarbonization” of Shelbyville’s Bulleit facility, which distills bourbon. The batteries would also provide low-cost, zero-carbon heat and power for industrial heating processes in a separate facility in Plainfield, Illinois.

The up to $75 million DOE grant would create about 144 construction jobs.

Project 4: Natural gas boiler replacement

Several groups are evaluating a potential project in Ashland to replace natural gas boilers with electric heart produced by a thermal battery instead.

If implemented, the project’s goal would be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in steam generation by about 70% at Ashland’s Calvert City chemical plant.

ISP Chemicals LLC is partnering with Tennessee Valley Authority and Electrified Thermal Solutions for the project. The DOE would invest up to $35.2 million the $70 million project, and a workers union would help in hiring.

Project 5: Hydropower storage facility

Finally, the DOE selected former coal mine lands in Bell County for a hydropower storage project, which was announced last week.

The DOE would contribute up to $81 million of the $1.3 billion Lewis Ridge Pumped Storage Project. Rye Development would handle the transition over the next decade.

Once completed, the facility would have the capacity to power 67,000 homes a year, and store up to eight hours of energy for emergencies or times of peak demand.

The project would create 1,500 construction jobs and would serve Eastern Kentucky and parts of Tennessee for a century.