The Kansas Chapter is launching a campaign to promote both energy efficiency and wind power in Kansas. Our slogan will be Energy Leadership and Clean Air in Kansas. One of our first actions is to promote wind power in the upcoming legislative session. .
Kansas has become a net importer of energy. At the same time both Wichita and Kansas City have a problem with air quality. Prior to the unusually cool summer of 2004, both metro areas came close to exceeding the standard for ozone smog. A new vision for energy policy can help solve both these problems. It would involve a focus on energy efficiency and on getting wind power off the ground in western Kansas. Such a new policy would help achieve clean air while lowering power costs and increasing tax revenues from economic development.
No to Coal. It’s simply unwise to burn more coal to produce electricity. Coal fired power plants are a major source of air pollution including oxides of nitrogen (NOX) and fine particulate. In Kansas City, the Mid America Regional Council’s new model has identified NOX control as critical to staying within the ozone standard. Recent studies have determined that fine particulate can increase overall mortality in our population. Also coal plants are the largest source of mercury emissions in the United States. Last year the Centers for Disease Control stated that one in six women of child bearing age have levels of mercury in their blood that could harm a fetus.
New coal plants would also be a major source of carbon dioxide which contributes to global warming. According to regional models, climate change is likely to increase urban flooding in the Kansas City area but increase drought in western Kansas. The federal government under the Bush Administration has walked away from the Kyoto Accord and is now pushing a new coal gasification process as the answer to dirty coal. But it’s 10 to 15 years away from general use. Thus the conventional coal plants now proposed in Kansas and Missouri will further solidify the US position as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Each megawatt (MW) of wind power capacity displaces 2000 tons of carbon dioxide.
Yes to Wind. The good news is we don’t need to burn more coal. Why would anyone want to, when we sit next to the Saudi Arabia of wind energy. The cost of generating electricity with wind at good sites has fallen rapidly in the past decade to about 3 cents per kilowatt-hour (net of the 1.5 cents/kwh federal tax credit) compared to about 4.5 cents for new coal-fired power plants. The cost of capturing mercury and carbon dioxide is not included in the coal figure. In fact the cost of coal fired power generation almost doubles when the environmental and health cost “externalities” are added in. Wind power costs are expected to continue to fall for the big wind turbines ideal for western Kansas.
The new 800 MW coal fired power plant proposed by KCP&L will cost in excess of $1 billion. It will be located either just south of Atchison in Kansas or just north of Weston in Missouri. Likewise Sunflower Electric Coop in western Kansas is working with an investor to spend $1 billion on a big new coal fired plant. We have yet to determine what rate increases will result from these facilities, but they are likely to be substantial. In contrast wind power can be phased in quickly, at lower cost, in sets of 50 or 100 MW as demand develops.
Advocates of coal and nuclear power are raising unsubstantiated claims against wind power. They claim that power utilities cannot rely on wind power because the wind doesn’t blow all the time, i.e. that wind farms have a lower “capacity factor” than coal or nuclear.
It is critical to understand that the capacity factor relates only to costs of requiring stand-by capacity for when the wind generators are off-line. Governmental sources show that the requirement for fossil fuel back up is minimal so long as wind constitutes less than 20% of the power company’s total generation portfolio. Since the utility companies in our region use very little wind power, we have a long way to go before bumping up against that limit. Finally this problem is much reduced for western Kansas facilities not only because wind resources are so good, but also because the terrain is ideal for the installation of the big turbines that can efficiently utilize lower wind speeds.
Cheaper to Save Energy. Even if we didn’t have all this wind energy, it would still be cheaper to save energy rather than pay for new generating capacity. Power companies serving Kansas have done very little to encourage energy efficiency among their customers. In fact Kansas utilities rank last in the US for energy efficiency offerings to their rate payers. The Kansas Chapter will be developing information that will advise businesses and individuals on how to save energy. We will also be exploring ways electric utility companies can be given incentives to encourage energy conservation.
Needed: State Energy Leadership. Kansas has fallen behind other states in encouraging energy production from renewable sources like wind. The upcoming legislative session will be crucial to bringing the vision of Kansas wind power leadership to a reality. A major barrier to using our vast wind energy potential is the lack of transmission lines in western Kansas. A bill is being drafted, modeled on a law passed last year in Wyoming that will create a state transmission authority similar to the Kansas Turnpike Authority. The new transmission authority would be able to sell bonds to finance new transmission capacity and facilitate easements for the lines.
In November voters in Colorado approved a measure requiring that 3% of their power come from renewable energy by 2007 and 10% by 2015. Kansas wind farms can sell some of this power, but new lines and equipment are needed to hook up with the grid serving that state. New lines are also needed to serve markets in Kansas and to the south and east. Since this would be a public authority, access to the lines, say for smaller scale local coop producers, would be guaranteed and not mediated by the utility companies. The bad news is that coal fired power generators could also use the lines. We will have to see how this sorts out during the legislative debate.
The legislature also needs to study the benefits of energy efficiency and to monitor the KCC’s rate setting process to see what incentives can be provided to power companies to save energy rather than building new polluting power generators. Also we expect a bill to be introduced that will encourage the use of gas-electric hybrid vehicles in the state’s fleet.
What you can do. The chapter has developed a fact sheet on wind power in Kansas. Please contact Brooks Albery at email@example.com, (Or the chapter at __________to request copies. Write letters to the editor of your newspaper. If you haven’t already done so please join our legislative alert system. Primarily during the January to early April legislative session you will be notified about important bills and asked to contact your legislator. Please email Craig Wolfe at firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up for the alert list.
By Craig Volland, Conservation Chair