Clean energy controversy: Evergy responds to pushback on latest plan

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TOPEKA, Kan. — Evergy, one of the largest energy suppliers in Kansas, received pushback from one environmental group over their latest clean energy plan.

The Kansas Chapter of Sierra Club, a national environmental organization, released an analysis Thursday, criticizing the utility company’s proposed timeframe for making a clean energy transition.

According to the Sierra Club’s report, Evergy’s latest Integrated Resource Plan, IRP, fails to “lay out a plan to justly and promptly transition Kansas off of coal.”

One of the lobbyists for the group, Zack Pistora, told the Kansas Capitol Bureau that the shift to clean energy can happen sooner than what’s been suggested by choosing to invest more into clean energy sources, instead of relying on power from coal plants.

“Wind is the predominant source of power for Kansas and outpacing coal. We’ve done that in only 20 years’ time. We can do that a lot more with both wind and solar, but also new technologies, with some initiative by both public leaders, utility officials to make that a goal, to hit the acceleration a little bit faster.”

According to the group’s report, Evergy can retire its Jeffrey and La Cygne coal plants as soon as 2025 and 2028, respectively, and save Kansans up to $869 million by pooling together the remaining coal debt from the two plants.

However, Evergy officials say the report is “categorically false” and “flawed.” Andrew Baker, Senior Communications Manager at Evergy, defended the company’s IRP and said the timeframe that the group has proposed “can’t be done.”

“This plan was selected after careful consideration of more than 50 distinct plans weighing multiple evaluation criteria, including ongoing operating costs, to operate existing generation, expected cost of ongoing environmental compliance, and cost of alternative resources. It incorporates additional investment and cost-effective, renewable resources, while responsibly managing our existing generation sources through the end of life. It also maintains the focus on reliability that our customers depend on for their livelihoods.”

Evergy’s IRP said that the company’s goal is to reduce carbon emissions by 70% by 2030 and achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2045.

According to Baker, the company specifically outlines the costs and benefits of operating their plants annually and has an obligation to their customers to provide the lowest cost of service that also meets reliability and sustainability requirements.

Sierra Club analysts also gave the company a “failing grade” (4 out of 100) “for its refusal to retire its coal plants and build clean energy at the pace that climate science demands.” While Evergy’s score is expected to improve by the time this report is updated in early 2022, Evergy will still lag far behind fellow Midwestern utilities companies such as Xcel Energy, CenterPoint, and the Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO), according to the current IRP.

Baker said the company’s comprehensive IRP is filed every three years and is updated every year based on changing conditions.

“Through future IRPs, the pace of retirements, and type of resource additions will continue to evolve as technology, policy, and our operating environment changes,” he said. “Of our Midwest peer utilities, only one has made more progress than Evergy toward an emission-free energy mix. Our goal is to continue responsible progress toward a more sustainable generation portfolio, while also ensuring our customers have that affordable, reliable power that they depend on.”

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