Environmental advocates say Evergy can shutter two more coal plants within decade

The utility company has pledged to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2045, but analysis by Sierra Club claims it could retire its coal plants even faster

By: - October 28, 2021 1:56 pm

Evergy headquarters in downtown Topeka, Kansas (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector).

KANSAS CITY — Evergy can retire two more coal-burning power plants within the decade without sacrificing affordability or massively increasing rates, environmental advocates say in a new report.

The electric utility, which serves 1.6 million customers in Kansas and Missouri, is scheduled to stop burning coal at its Lawrence plant by the end of 2023. It has pledged to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2045.

But the Sierra Club in a new analysis claims Evergy could — and should — retire its coal plants much faster than it is.

“Evergy has lagged far behind other utilities in its plans to retire dangerous, polluting coal plants,” the report says. Nationwide, it says, 52% of coal generation is slated to be retired by 2030, compared to just 11% in Kansas.

The Sierra Club report, with analysis by the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute, says Evergy could retire its Jeffrey Energy Center near St Marys in 2025 and its La Cygne coal plant near the Missouri border in 2028.

Under legislation passed this year in Kansas and Missouri, Evergy can pursue “securitization,” a financing mechanism that allows it to refinance outstanding debt it took on to build the coal plants and retire them early. Doing so at Jeffrey and La Cynge between 2023 and 2030 could save the utility between $333 and $896 million, the report says.

In its latest plan filed with Kansas and Missouri regulators, Evergy said it would close one unit at Jeffrey in 2030 and one at La Cynge in 2032. It wouldn’t close the remaining units at the plants until 2039.

That same plan said Evergy would invest in 350 megawatts of solar power by the end of 2023 as it shut down the Lawrence coal operations.

But instead, it will keep the Lawrence center open to run on natural gas during times of peak demand and invest in just 190 megawatts of solar. It plans to add 800 megawatts of wind energy in 2024 and 2025 and 350 megawatts of solar power in 2026. By 2026, Evergy’s updated plan is short of earlier renewable generation goals by 360 megawatts.

The Sierra Club report claims Evergy could shutter the plants and replace their nearly 3,600 megawatts of generation capacity through a mix of solar and wind power, battery storage and managing customers’ energy usage through efficiency projects and “demand-side management,” including programs to utilize smart thermostats.

John Romankiewicz, a senior analyst for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said Evergy was not using the latest cost figures on renewable energy resources or taking advantage of tax credits. In the next few years, he said, burning coal will get more expensive while the cost of renewables comes down until they cross over each other and wind and solar power become cheaper.

And he said Evergy’s coal plants are not profitable.

“These plants are not profitable compared to the market,” Romankiewicz said.

Romankiewicz claimed Evergy had preselected its coal retirement dates and then modeled its plan on those dates rather than seeing how quickly it could shutter the plants.

The report recommends the company update its “integrated resource plan” on file with Kansas and Missouri regulators to model scenarios with more renewable energy, analyze how securitization can be used to retire coal plants and develop plans to increase energy efficiency and local renewable energy to alleviate the burden of high energy bills for low-income customers.

Evergy is preparing to file with Kansas regulators for permission to establish energy efficiency programs, such as grants for home upgrades.

Similar programs in Missouri have saved nearly 770 million kilowatt hours of energy usage with 300,000 customers participating, said the company’s spokeswoman, Gina Penzig.

“And by investing in energy efficiency, we are really investing in our customers to make them more competitive, in our community as these programs create local jobs, and in sustainability by reducing carbon dioxide emissions,” Penzig said in a statement earlier this month.

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Allison Kite
Allison Kite

Allison Kite is a data reporter for The Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflector, with a focus on energy, the environment and agriculture. A graduate of the University of Kansas, she previously covered City Hall for The Kansas City Star, as well as state government in both Topeka and Jefferson City.