By Allison Kite, Kansas Reflector
TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas’ largest electric utility has drastically scaled back its plans to add more clean energy over the next decade and will keep open its oldest coal plant for years longer.
Two years ago, Evergy announced plans to retire the Lawrence Energy Center by the end of this year and add 700 megawatts of solar power by the end of 2024.
Now, it doesn’t plan to add any solar power until 2026 and will keep the Lawrence coal plant open until 2028.
Evergy, which serves 1.6 million customers in Kansas and Missouri, revealed the plans in filings with regulators in both states. By 2032, Evergy plans to add 2,200 megawatts of renewable energy, down 37% from the 3,540 megawatts of renewable generation it planned to add as of last year’s filing.
In a news release, the company says it will add more than 3,300 megawatts of renewable power by 2035.
It also plans to add more than 1,440 megawatts of natural gas power by 2028.
The company said the update reflects a plan “that will most effectively serve customers in both states and provide reliable and affordable power over a long-term planning horizon.”
“Evergy is committed to leading a responsible energy transition while keeping affordability and reliability at the forefront,” the company’s president and CEO David Campbell said in the release.
The Sierra Club, a major environmental nonprofit, decried the change.
Nancy Muma, a volunteer with the Wakarusa Group of the organization, said in a news release it was “maddening” that Evergy delayed retiring the Lawrence plant.
“That’s not a decision utility leaders make while proclaiming to care about climate change and the cost to its customers,” Muma said.
Billy Davies, conservation organizer for the Sierra Club, criticized Evergy for not moving more swiftly to close its Hawthorn Power Plant in Kansas City, Missouri, noting that City Hall and the surrounding community have called for its closure by 2025.
“Evergy has a plethora of tools to move more quickly to clean energy as its customers have demanded, but unfortunately it appears the utility is choosing not to use them, as we’re watching climate change impact our region through wildfire smoke from out west and drought locally,” Davies said.
He called the decision “unacceptable.”
Evergy’s plan says the city of Kansas City’s clean energy goals are “incredibly aggressive” and too expensive. The city wants Evergy to close Hawthorn and all other coal units by 2030 and replace them with clean energy. Doing so, the company’s plan says, would cost $3.5 billion more than its preferred energy transition.
Gina Penzig, a spokeswoman for Evergy, said in an email that the company had reduced its carbon emissions by 46% since 2005 and cut its sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions by 98% and 88%. She said the Sierra Club hadn’t “acknowledged this progress.”
In its release, Evergy said it was facing increasing electricity demand and changes in requirements from the Southwest Power Pool, the regional grid to which Evergy belongs. The company said new renewable energy projects were set back by supply chain constraints and long approval processes with the SPP.
“Our service area is experiencing some of its most robust electricity demand growth in decades, including very large projects like the Panasonic electric vehicle battery manufacturing factory and the Meta datacenter, as well as broad-based economic development in both Kansas and Missouri,” Campbell said
Despite the proposed natural gas additions and cut in planned renewables, Evergy maintains the same goal to reduce its carbon emissions by 70% by 2030 compared with 2005 levels and reach net zero emissions by 2045.
Penzig said “how we operate our fleet is a large driver in achieving (carbon dioxide) reductions.”
“The planned natural gas generation produces significantly less carbon than the coal units they are replacing,” she said. “The new units would also be capable of converting to hydrogen in the future.”
Thursday’s plan filing is an annual update to Evergy’s long-range resource plan. It will file its full triennial plan next year.