Outside Monday night’s KET senate debate one voice was louder than the rest, the voice of young Kentuckians. Young voters are often described as apathetic but a group of a dozen students and young people from the KY Student Environmental Coalition (KSEC) stood in stark contrast to that sentiment. Holding signs that asked candidates to address climate change and be bold energy leaders, the students wanted to make sure that Mayor Gray and Senator Paul knew that they were disappointed in their lack of leadership on energy and environmental issues.
“I’m so tired of hearing that millennials are apathetic. We aren’t apathetic or unengaged. We are being ignored. Is it really surprising we don’t vote when we have candidates who are failing to address the issues that are most important to us?” said Taylor Renfro, who studies environmental and sustainability at the University of Kentucky. “Want to activate young voters? Start talking about real energy transition, protecting our communities from pollution and addressing economic inequalities. Renewable energy and energy efficiency legislation could put our communities back to work and help Kentucky become an energy leader again. And our senate candidates on either side of the aisle haven’t said one word about new energy solutions. We aren’t voting because we are completely uninspired by our options.”
KSEC supports a network of students and young people from across the state who are working to build a better future in Kentucky by advocating for the protection of natural resources, community health and resiliency and a new, sustainable “green” economy. One of their initiatives is building support amongst elected officials for renewable energy portfolio standard legislation, called the Energy Opportunity Act, which, according to a study done by Synapse Energy Solutions, would create a net 28,000 new jobs over the next 10 years.
“If our candidates actually cared about job creation, they would be leading a just economic transition, which includes creating a green economy in Kentucky where we are not only putting people to work in increasing the energy efficiency of our homes and businesses and installing renewable energy, like rooftop solar, but also talking about manufacturing wind turbines and solar panels here, too.” said Grace Engelman, a high school student from Owen County. “When we hear candidates and legislators say that they are going to bring back coal, we know that is a false promise and only reflects on their ties to the coal industry, not the real needs in our communities. Coal is not coming back and what we need now is a plan to protect our impacted communities from another large extractive industry swooping in while we are vulnerable.”
Currently 29 states have a renewable energy portfolio standard including Ohio and North Carolina. Many attribute the huge economic growth in the solar energy sector in North Carolina specifically to the passage of REP standards and they are now leading the nation in employing people in the solar industry. Kentucky has vast untapped potential for solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal energy production. KY currently gets 3% of our electricity from renewable sources, and about 80% from coal with the rest coming from natural gas.