New Wolf Creek Dam Concern

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State officials are concerned that electricity production at a major power plant could suffer if water levels get too low at Lake Cumberland.

Regulators and utilities are trying to figure out how bad the problem could be and what to do if the plant has to cut back or shut down.

If the plant can't generate electricity or has to significantly reduce production, that could mean periodic blackouts for customers across south-central Kentucky, according to a representative of the Kentucky Public Service Commission.

The concern focuses on John Sherman Cooper Station, a coal-burning power plant overlooking the lake in Pulaski County. The plant is a key supplier to the East Kentucky Power Cooperative, which operates it, generating enough electricity to supply 187,550 homes, said spokesman Kevin Osbourn.

The plant draws huge amounts of water from the lake for cooling during power generation. That's where the potential problem comes in.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to keep the water level in the lake far lower than usual this summer to relieve pressure on Wolf Creek Dam, which is at risk of failing because it is leaking. Keeping the water down will reduce the chance of a collapse at the dam, though the corps has said the dam is not in imminent danger of failure.

Andrew Melnykovych is a spokesman for the state Public Service Commission. He says if Cooper station couldn't generate electricity, it would cause real problems, including the potential for blackouts.