But technology is not available today to deal with that issue, he said.
East Kentucky Power received approval from the state Public Service Commission in May to begin construction of the proposed base-load unit on the cooperative's 3,000 acres at Smith Station. In addition to the coal-fired unit, the project will include two 90-megawatt gas-fired turbine generators designed to meet peak energy demand.
Before construction can begin, the cooperative still needs an air permit from the Kentucky Division of Air Quality and approval from Rural Utilities Service, a government agency that provides low-interest funding for capital projects.
Officials expect to have the peaking units constructed by the middle of next year, but construction on the base-load unit is not expected to begin until late 2009, pushing completion of the project until late 2012 or 2013. At peak construction, the project is expected to create more than 750 jobs and will create about 60 permanent jobs once operational.
Marshall said East Kentucky Power added a similar coal-fired unit to its Gilbert plant in Maysville, which has been certified as one of the cleanest coal-burning units in the nation.
"It's to East Kentucky Power's credit that we went with these technologies," he said.
While technology to address carbon is unavailable, the proposed coal-fired unit at Smith Station will reduce sulfur-dioxide emissions by 98 percent, mercury emissions by 95 percent and will produce fewer nitrogen emissions then a typical coal plant.
But, he said, environmental pressure on coal-fired utilities is growing.
In March, three environmental groups, the Sierra Club, Kentucky Environmental Foundation and the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit against the RUS in opposition to the coal-fired unit.
The groups argue that RUS failed to properly assess the environmental impact of the proposed unit and 36 miles of transmission lines that East Kentucky Power plans to construct over the next few years to deliver the power.
An environmental assessment of the transmission lines has been concluded, and RUS plans to conduct a supplemental environmental study of the unit. However, the suit says failure to conduct the assessments jointly violates the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires related projects be evaluated in a single study.
"We feel that the site has gone through enough environmental impact studies that we know can build the Smith unit and not have any environmental issues there," Marshall said.
The speaker added that the RUS has recently ruled that it will not fund any new coal-fired plants that do not address carbon capture, and federal lawmakers are increasing demands on utilities. Meanwhile, international demand is driving up the cost of construction.
Marshall said cost estimates for Smith Station have grown from $550 million to $700 million, and he encouraged citizens to get involved in government legislation.
"It's incumbent for citizens to be as informed as you can about this because it has the potential to create certainly a great increase in what you pay for electricity," he said. "The fact of the matter is that something is going to be coming from Washington to address carbon, and we need to shape that debate instead of sitting on the sidelines."
In the meantime, East Kentucky Power continues to support efforts to improve Irvine Road and has been considering opening a section of Smith Station up as a wildlife management area, Marshall explained.
"Smith is very important to our members," he said.
East Kentucky Power supplies power to about 500,000 customers through its member systems.