Evergy to shutter Lawrence coal plant, speed transition to renewable energy

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Evergy will retire its coal power plant in Lawrence by the end of 2023, the company announced on Friday.

The utility revealed its plan to regulators in a filing with the Missouri Public Service Commission. The “integrated resource plan” lays out Evergy’s next few years in capital expenses and pledges to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2045.

To that end, the company says it will retire “nearly all” of its remaining coal generation by 2040.

In a press release, Evergy’s president and CEO David Campbell said the company is moving toward a cleaner energy future while balancing needs of “reliability and affordability.”

“Our coal-fired fossil plants are now more flexible than ever and frequently operate as a backup to renewable generation sources,” Campbell said. “This flexibility allows us to adapt to real-time needs — running fossil plants more when renewable availability is low or customer demand is high. This measured transition toward more sustainable resource options maintains the reliability our customers need.”

Within the next 10 years, Evergy’s plan says, it will retire nearly 1,200 megawatts of coal-based energy and add 3,200 megawatts of renewable generation. The retirement of the Lawrence Energy Center means removal of 487 megawatts of coal generation, and in the same time frame, the company plans to add 700 megawatts of solar energy. By 2030, the utility plans to have cut emissions by 70% compared to 2005 levels.

The Sierra Club said there was good news in the plan, but criticized Evergy for not retiring more coal plants.

“Evergy’s plan falls short of the action needed to mitigate the worst consequences of the climate crisis,” said Andy Knott, deputy regional director for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “While the new investments in renewable energy are important, it’s unfortunate that Evergy is proposing to continue operating 80 percent of its coal fleet beyond 2030, a decision that is wildly inconsistent with a low-cost grid and necessary action to achieve climate progress.”

Ashok Gupta, senior energy economist for the National Resources Defense Council, said in the release that Evergy’s pledge was a “big win for Missouri and Kansas and critical to decarbonizing building and transportation sectors.”

“It builds on the company’s strong history of success over the last ten years in advancing sustainability through industry-leading efforts in wind development, energy efficiency and electric vehicle charging infrastructure,” Gupta said. “With additional state and federal policy support, greater emission reductions and continued cost-competitiveness are in reach.”

The decision comes as Evergy has faced pressure from environmental groups to retire more coal plants, citing increased risks for asthma among residents living near coal plants. The Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club earlier this year encouraged Kansans to petition Evergy to retire more coal plants.

It also comes weeks after Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly signed a bipartisan “securitization” bill, which allows utilities to issue bonds to ease the risk of shuttering coal plants.

The plan did not mention securitization as a tool to help Evergy retire the Lawrence plant, but it said the pace at which it retires fossil fuel plants and adds other resources will evolve “as technology, policy and our operating environment changes.”

“For example, we are encouraged by current progress to advance securitization legislation in the states of Missouri and Kansas that would allow utilities to refinance the value of older plants at low interest rates and use the funds raised to invest in the grid, including new renewable and dispatchable generation,” the plan says.

Evergy is also required to file an integrated resource plan with the Kansas Corporation Commission later this year.

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