Kentucky editorial roundup

Recent editorials from Kentucky newspapers: ___ Sept. 23 The Lexington Herald-Leader on solar energy in Kentucky: The news that cosmetics-giant L'Oreal plans to install one of Kentucky's largest solar energy arrays at its manufacturing plant in Florence is exciting but also a reminder of how...

Recent editorials from Kentucky newspapers:


Sept. 23

The Lexington Herald-Leader on solar energy in Kentucky:

The news that cosmetics-giant L'Oreal plans to install one of Kentucky's largest solar energy arrays at its manufacturing plant in Florence is exciting but also a reminder of how rarely Kentucky has such an announcement and how quickly others are passing us by.

While many states have more solar-friendly energy policies than Kentucky, the key to solar's recent takeoff has been economic — a 60 percent drop in the cost of the underlying technology over the last five years.

Almost all of solar's cost is upfront, which makes costs entirely predictable. Like L'Oreal, businesses and industries are turning to solar as a hedge against energy-cost increases that could result from volatility in fuel prices and operating costs, but also out of concern for a heating-up climate and the environment.

In Kentucky, the conventional wisdom — actually more like sacred truth— is that our automaking industry, refineries, aluminum smelters and other manufacturing are built on the state's traditionally low-cost electricity.

Kentucky still has relatively cheap power, as natural gas displaces coal as utilities' fuel of choice. In 2105, 87 percent of Kentucky's net electricity generation came from coal, down from 92 percent just a few years before, as aging coal plants reach the end of their lifespans.

To keep that competitive edge as solar costs continue to shrink, Kentucky will have to catch up in the renewable energy race.

Solar accounted for all of the generating capacity created last year in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and South Carolina, said Bill Halter, CEO of Scenic Hill, the Little Rock, Arkansas, company that will construct L'Oreal's solar installations in Northern Kentucky and also at a facility in North Little Rock.

Kentucky is one of only 13 states that have no standards or goals for increasing renewable energy, known as renewable portfolio standards. Twenty-nine states have enacted requirements that utilities sell a specified percentage or amount of renewable power from sources such as solar and wind. Eight states have voluntary goals. Since adopting renewable standards, North Carolina has enjoyed a sharp increase in solar investment — almost $1.7 billion last year — and its solar companies employ almost 6,000 people.

The plant in Florence, L'Oreal's largest in production volume, will generate 1.5 megawatts of solar power, about 10 percent of its electricity needs, and buy the rest in renewable energy credits, specifically hydropower, from Duke Energy, the local utility. L'Oreal, based in France, has a 2020 goal of reducing its heat-trapping carbon emissions by 60 percent and already has solar installations at 14 facilities plus wind generation in Texas.

While cost stability is part of the motive, L'Oreal, regarded as the world's top beauty-products brand, also is responding to customer demand. Research shows that consumers prefer products manufactured sustainably and that many will pay more for a product that leaves a smaller carbon footprint.

When a corporation such as L'Oreal thinks that environmental sustainability is integral to its brand and future prosperity, states such as Kentucky should take the hint.

An earlier version of this editorial said that L'Oreal's planned 1.5 megawatt solar installation in Florence would be the largest in Kentucky. LG&E and Kentucky Utilities is operating a 10 megawatt solar plant in Mercer County. Fort Knox generates 3.6 megawatts of solar power, including a single 2.1 megawatt plan on 10 acres.



Sept. 23

The Daily Independent of Ashland on Kentucky's public pension systems:

PFM Group, a Philadelphia-based consulting company, has won a contract to review Kentucky's struggling public pension systems. Let us hope the firm develops a workable and affordable plan to aggressively address a combined unfunded pension liability of an estimated $35 billion in the Kentucky Employees Retirement System, the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System and the Kentucky Judicial Form Retirement systems.

Gov. Matt Bevin has made reducing the pension debt his top priority, and the state will pay $556,300 for the two-year contract, which includes a not-to-exceed amount of $50,600 for travel and expenses.

PFM Group does not come cheap. If that sounds like a lot of money, that's because it is. However, if the contract results in PFM Group developing a plan to aggressively address the debt while keeping the retirement promises made to thousands of current and retired state employees, the high cost of the PFM Group contract could prove to be a bargain in the long run.

The contract calls for PFM to deliver a final report by Dec. 31. Once PFM's recommendations have been made public, it will be up to 2017 Kentucky General Assembly to approve those recommendations, and that may be the most difficult task of all.

One thing is certain: Kentucky cannot afford to do nothing. Kentucky's combined state retirement funds are among the worst-funded systems in the country. A recent survey by S&P Global Ratings found Kentucky has the lowest ratio of all states of money needed to make payouts to current and future retirees.

State government already has made promises to state workers it cannot afford to keep. If nothing is done, the retirement funds eventually will collapse and be unable to pay promised benefits. Fixing the pension system will not be easy, but not fixing it is not an option.

We hope PFM Group's work doesn't not fall victim to the intense partisan bickering that has all but thwarted any progress in Frankfort in recent years. Regardless of the political makeup of Kentucky General Assembly after the Nov. 8 General Election, legislators in both parties must cease the political games and work together to solve a broken retirement system that threatens to bankrupt the state.



Sept. 21

The Kentucky New Era on a legal battle between the University of Kentucky and its independent student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel:

An open-records battle between the University of Kentucky and its independent student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, has raised questions about the university's motivations for withholding documents from an investigation of a professor accused of sexually harassing and assaulting students.

We agree with the Kernel's recent front-page editorial, which we published in Saturday's New Era, that states UK isn't fighting for the privacy of victims.

Because an anonymous source related to the case gave the investigative records to the Kernel, it's now clear that UK intended to keep secret the fact that a university professor was allowed to resign and leave UK without a formal process for disciplinary action.

In light this information, and UK's refusal to turn over the records to the Kentucky Attorney General's Office for review, it appears the university's chief concern is quashing bad publicity.

Now we have to wonder if that line of thinking also kept UK police from cooperating with the Lexington Police Department in its investigation of a recent attempted sexual assault near campus.

According to a Lexington Herald-Leader story, on Sept. 2 a spokeswoman for Lexington police emailed UK police and asked the university to put out an alert about an Aug. 26 incident, which occurred one block from campus. About 30 minutes after midnight, a woman was shoved to the ground by a man who tried to sexually assault her. Two other men heard the woman, and they chased the attacker away, Lexington police said.

UK declined the request from Lexington police to send out an email alert. And a UK spokeswoman said in an email "that UK would prefer that any mention of UK's campus or UK police be removed from a news release prepared by Lexington police," the Herald-Leader story states.

Lexington police issued a news release about the attempted sexual assault. It did not mention UK.

It seems a great deal of effort went into withholding information that might have helped UK students avoid potential harm. Many students live or walk through the area where the assault was reported.

UK spokesman Jay Blanton told the Herald-Leader that the university did not send the email alert to students because the alert did not meet the university's guidelines. ". we distribute alerts if an event occurs on our campus or if we determine that there is an immediate threat. In this case, neither of those conditions were met as the incident had occurred off campus." He added, " . the incident happened days or weeks earlier, so there was not an immediate or ongoing threat to the campus community."

Lexington authorities are now investigating a possible link between the Aug. 26 attack and other sexual assaults in the area. Police released a composite drawing of a suspect on Sept. 14.

And last week, UK sent out a campus safety message in response to social media posts claiming there was a "serial rapist" on campus. UK's message, about ". misinformation being circulated among University of Kentucky students, parents and employees about a recent attempted sexual assault in Lexington" was from campus Police Chief Joe Monroe. He said that all of the incidents were off-campus and that UK police were assisting Lexington police.

Sometimes misinformation is generated when accurate information is withheld or hidden.

UK needs to consider what's behind the reluctance of administrators to share information students and the general public have a right to know.