More than 100 people lined all four street corners outside of Lawrence City Hall Tuesday to rally for clean energy usage and push Evergy to close their Lawrence power plant.
“We need climate action, we need more clean energy, homegrown local Kansas energy, not dirty Wyoming coal,” said Zack Pistora, a lobbyist in Topeka with the Sierra Club, an environmental group that organized the rally.
Kansas Rep. Christina Haswood, a state representative for Baldwin and parts of Lawrence, was at the rally on behalf of the Kansas-based nonprofit Climate and Energy Project, which focuses on advancing renewable energy solutions.
“We want to continue to work together and move forward with renewable energy and clean energy but it really harms us when big corporations are backing away and not keeping their promises,” Haswood said.
Also at the event was Lawrence school board member Carole Cadue-Blackwood. The board on Monday approved a solar energy pilot project for the district.
“I am greatly concerned about climate change,” Cadue-Blackwood said. “Last year was the hottest weather on record. It’s getting hotter, winters are getting colder. Our bills are climbing and people are choosing between food and air conditioning. It’s a crisis.”
Evergy’s decision to go back on their commitment to close the plant frustrated many of the rallygoers.
“It weakens our trust in that company, and then we question, why did they choose to make a promise and then break it?” said demonstrator Kathleen Harned.
Pistora and the Sierra Club pushed Evergy in the past to create a plan that would set a vision for the next two decades, leading Evergy to announce their plan to close the Lawrence power plant at the end of 2023 and shift to renewables.
But two years later, Evergy has already shifted the plan, pushing the deadline back five years.
“That’s not a long-term plan if you keep changing it,” Pistora said.
It did not appear that anyone representing Evergy was present at the rally, which was announced to the Lawrence City Commission a week ago.
Renewable energy is widely considered to be a cheaper alternative to coal, something that was especially pertinent to rallygoers concerned about Evergy’s proposed rate hikes.
“We really think we can lower the rates with clean energy solutions,” Pistora said. “We’re being asked for $218 million from Kansas ratepayers. Evergy made $752 million last year in profits. It should be recalibrated so everybody wins.”
According to Pistora, Kansas ranks in the top 10 for sunlight but bottom 10 for solar energy. He said that this presents a huge missed opportunity for Kansas to produce clean energy in the state, something that he claimed would lower rates and help climate change.
The City of Lawrence has a part to play as well, Pistora said. He recognized that city leaders have been on the forefront of movements for renewable energy, but he called on them to recognize the high levels of support for clean energy and use that to inform a conversation with Evergy about the Lawrence plant.
The city has already passed an ordinance setting a goal of 100% clean energy by 2035.
Multiple people at the event urged city leaders to start a conversation about moving the plant away from coal and towards renewable energy.
“We would like the city commissioners to help us to talk to them and tell them we won’t meet our climate goals with the coal plant functioning in Lawrence,” Harned said. “… We would like them to open a conversation with Evergy. Because this is a community that’s progressive and we would like renewable energy so that we can meet our net zero goals.”
David Severance attended the rally to advocate for solutions to climate change, which he said he continues to see the effects of every day.
“We’re seeing all kinds of issues with climate change,” he said. “You know, we just have got to do something to start tipping the tide … I would like to see Evergy hold their their rates and honor their promise that they’re going to change the coal plant and help out the environment.”
Ty Gorman, a campaign representative for the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign, said the turnout was indicative of a large and growing body of support for clean energy in Lawrence.
“People are united around clean energy in Lawrence,” he said. “They want the coal plant closed. And they want their city government to push Evergy to make that happen.”
He said Lawrence could be a signal to the rest of the state and region that clean energy can work.
“It will give a lot of strength not only to the other progressive areas of Kansas, but to the corporation commission and to Topeka,” Gorman said. ”I think it opens up this opportunity to let everybody know, you can close a coal plant and it makes everything cheaper. You can keep a reliable grid with the coal plant closed.”
Gorman and Pistora pointed to work done in Kansas City, where activists pushed the city to accelerate the shuttering of the Hawthorn Coal Plant.
Kevin Nelson, a Lawrence resident at the rally, said that his generation of baby boomers was handing down a hurting planet to younger generations. He called on leaders to help ensure that they reversed that trend and ensured future generations had a livable planet.
“It’s inexcusable to the next generation, we have got to stop being selfish … And for all of you saying ‘I don’t want to have solar in my backyard,’ I’ve got solar in my backyard.”
If community coverage like this matters to you, please support The Lawrence Times.
Click here to subscribe.
If our local journalism matters to you, please help us keep doing this work.
Don’t miss a beat … Click here to sign up for our email newsletters
Cuyler Dunn (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He is a graduate of Lawrence High School where he was the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Budget, and was named the 2022 Kansas High School Journalist of the Year. Read more of his work for the Times here.
Molly Adams (she/her), photojournalist and news operations coordinator for The Lawrence Times, can be reached at molly (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Check out more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.