Scientists say that to stop rising global temperatures, the world will need to dramatically reduce the amount of carbon it emits into the air.
Power generation is one of the main culprits, and moving away from fossil fuels is seen as a key step in stopping climate change.
Under increasing pressure to abandon fossil fuels and in a changing economy that makes coal less and less competitive, the Kansas’ largest utility pledges to shut down nearly all of its coal-fired power plants in the next 20 years.
In the meantime, it’s about harvesting more energy from the wind and the sun.
Environmental groups are not impressed. They say Evergy could move away from coal for renewables much faster.
The update is from the latest long-term planning document Evergy is required to file with regulators in the state of Missouri. Kansas regulators are also asking for a state-specific plan for the first time. It’s not due for another month.
We are ahead of the national average and ahead of most utilities in terms of the carbon reduction we can do well, said Evergy spokesperson Chuck Caisley.
The plan calls for removing about 20% of its coal-fired power generation capacity over the next ten years. Evergy would retire its last three coal plants in 2039.
The first plant scheduled for retirement is the Lawrence Energy Center in 2023. A plant near St. Joseph, Missouri would close in 2024, followed by a unit north of Topeka in 2030 and a unit near La Swan, Kansas in 2032.
This is a far cry from what is needed to stop the climate crisis, said Andy Knott, deputy regional director of the Sierra Clubs Beyond Coal campaign.
But Caisley said Evergy can’t switch to renewable energy until it has the ability to generate enough electricity to replace it. And while some coal-fired power plants will remain open until 2039, they are unlikely to operate at full capacity. Instead, they will be operated seasonally to meet peak demands.
The plan would reduce Evergys carbon emissions by 70% from 2005 levels by 2030. The Biden administration would like the power generation sector to have net zero emissions by 2035. The plan current Evergys would only get there in 2045.
Beto Lugo is the Executive Director of Clean air now, an environmental justice organization in Kansas City. He said the closure of coal plants is a big victory for communities of color who are often more affected by pollution than other groups.
This is why communities must be part of these discussions, he said. They have to be at the table to guide many of these projects.
Lugo said it was especially important that these communities somehow benefit from the planned renewable energy projects.
Evergy says he plans to build 3,200 megawatts of renewable energy over the next decade, nearly doubling its renewable capacity. Most of the new developments will involve large-scale solar power farms. The first project would be completed as early as 2023.
Sierra Clubs Knott and other conservationists are also concerned that the plan would include the potential construction of several new natural gas-fired power plants after 2035. They would provide always-ready electricity to replace some of the lost coal. (Wind and solar do not have the on-demand convenience of coal and gas.) While natural gas emits less carbon than coal, it is still a chain-based fossil fuel. supply that emits large amounts of greenhouse gases.
Building new gas would continue the climate catastrophe, Knott said. This is not the right direction to take.
But Caisley said the analysis of the plan was done using current technology at today’s prices. He said that the further into the future the plan is, the more changes are almost inevitable.
Our hope is that during this time the technology is there so that you don’t have to invest in carbon, he said. But weren’t there yet.
The plan was also made without considering newly approved financial tools This would make it easier and more financially attractive for Evergy to retire the old coal plants earlier than planned.
Ashok Gupta is an energy economist at the National Resource Defense Council. He said the plan was definitely a step in the right direction, but needed to do more of what’s on offer, and faster.
He said the new financial tool will play a key role in achieving this.
This is not the end of the process, Gupta said. And we expect a lot to change, even in the annual update by next year.
Brian Grimmett reports on the environment, energy and natural resources for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @briangrimmett or email him at grimmett (at) kmuw (dot) org. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW, and High Plains Public Radio, focusing on health, the social determinants of health and how they relate to public policy.
Kansas News Service reports and photos may be reposted by news media at no cost with appropriate attribution and link to ksnewsservice.org.
Copyright 2021 KMUW | NPR for Wichita. To learn more, visit KMUW | NPR for Wichita.
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