Kansas’ transition to renewable energy is speeding up

September 26, 2020 3:59 am
Gov. Laura Kelly said construction of Inevergy’s new Grain Belt Express transmission line to carry wind-driven electricity to Missouri, Illinois and Indiana can create about 1,000 permanent jobs in Kansas. This image is of Evergy's Flat Ridge Wind Farm near Medicine Lodge. (Submitted/Kansas Reflector)

Evergy’s Flat Ridge Wind Farm, near Medicine Lodge, is one of the utility’s sources of renewable energy. Bills before the Kansas Senate would make developing wind energy impossible, the industry says. (Submitted to Kansas Reflector)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Larry E. Erickson is president of the Kansas Natural Resource Council. 

The wind speed in Kansas, and the large amount of time it is blowing with a good steady velocity, have helped the state’s transition to renewable energy. Favorable policies have also helped make Evergy, the largest electric utility in Kansas, a leader in expanding electricity from wind.

As part of a new Sustainability Transformation Plan the company announced in August, Evergy is planning to add 150 megawatts of wind power — enough to serve between 10,000 to 40,000 homes — as soon as Enel Green Power’s Cimarron Bend wind farm is completed later this year. 

Evergy hopes to achieve an 85% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 (based on 2005 levels) as part of its new plan, which has benefits for customers and stockholders. The company and its customers want to increase the rate of transition to renewable energy, and Evergy’s proposals to modernize the power grid will be helpful in increasing the speed with which it moves away from carbon-fueled power production. 

This is just one more example of significant progress in the past 10 years.

I have taken many students to tour wind farms over the past 12 years as part of the Sustainability Seminar at Kansas State University, and I’ve covered wind energy developments as co-author of a new book on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality.

Because there is no fuel cost with wind energy and solar energy, these sources of electricity are used when they are available. When need for electricity is low in the spring and fall, the portion of electricity supplied by wind has increased to more than 50%. (Natural gas is the easiest source of energy to increase and decrease to balance supply and demand.)

New installations have enabled wind to become the largest source of electricity in Kansas, accounting for more than 41% in 2019, and advancing technology has allowed wind generated electricity to become the low-cost alternative in many parts of Kansas.

In 2019, the cost of generating electricity from wind was about $30 per megawatt hour (3 cents per kilowatt hour) after a federal incentive was included — that’s down from $85 per megawatt hour in 2009.

The economics have been getting better each year, and the benefits of wind energy have been significant to owners of land and communities where wind farms have been located. Annual land lease payments in Kansas are more than $35 million per year.

There have been improvements in capacity factor, with about 41% of installed capacity being achieved with larger turbines and taller towers, which improve the ability to produce electricity under actual conditions compared to 100% for the best conditions. 

Employment in Kansas associated with wind energy has increased both in wind-related manufacturing and in managing and servicing production at over 40 wind farms. Wind energy has been an area of job growth in Kansas.

Kansas’ air quality is also benefiting, because air pollution associated with coal combustion is decreasing as new wind farms become available.

With 41% of electricity from wind and 18% from nuclear, 59% of Kansas’ electricity generation did not have carbon dioxide emissions as of 2019. The expectation is that the portion of electricity from coal will continue to decrease while electricity from wind and solar will increase.

Several wind farms are being added in 2020, with the expectation of more than 7,000 megawatts of installed capacity in 2021. Earlier this year, installed capacity reached 6,524 megawatts.

The low cost of electricity from wind is beneficial to attracting industry, and the renewable feature has environmental benefits because no water is needed, and there are no emissions.

Meanwhile, the costs of wildfires, hurricanes and flooding associated with climate change have increased as the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased. The great progress in advancing wind energy in Kansas is beneficial to Kansans and to efforts to decrease carbon emissions.

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Larry E. Erickson
Larry E. Erickson

Larry E. Erickson is professor emeritus of chemical engineering at Kansas State University and president of the Kansas Natural Resource Council. He is coauthor of the new book, "Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Improving Air Quality: Two Interrelated Global Challenges."