Evergy will keep open part of its Lawrence coal plant to run occasionally on natural gas despite earlier plans to shutter it completely and fall short of earlier pledges to add massive amounts of solar power to the electric grid, the utility revealed in regulatory filings this week.
Earlier this year, Evergy filed its “integrated resource plan” with Kansas and Missouri regulators, outlining proposals to add more renewable energy and retire fossil fuel generators. In it, the utility pledged to shutter the Lawrence Energy Center by the end of 2023 and add 350 megawatts in solar power to the grid in that same timeframe.
“We’re on a journey to a cleaner energy future, while balancing the highest priorities of reliability and affordability for our customers,” the company’s president and CEO David Campbell said in a press release at the time.
But the company, which serves 1.6 million customers in Kansas and Missouri, filed on Monday with the Kansas Corporation Commission to instead convert one of the two remaining units at LEC to run on natural gas intermittently, providing reliability when customers’ energy use peaks. It also revealed a plan to invest in 190 megawatts of solar power.
In a statement, Evergy’s spokeswoman, Gina Penzig, said the company remains committed to the renewable energy additions it outlined. The change to 190 megawatts instead of 350 is a “reflection of challenges with specific near-term solar projects.”
“Evergy’s current plan appropriately balances transitioning our fleet while also maintaining reliability and affordability for our customers,” Penzig said in a statement. “The recent updates to our plan are not a change in direction.”
At the time Evergy issued its original proposal, the Sierra Club said the company’s plans fell short compared with what it needed to do to “mitigate the worst consequences of the climate crisis.”
“We were disappointed that Evergy is already moving backwards on the modest clean energy timelines they established in their IRP a few months ago,” Ty Gorman, Kansas representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said.
Evergy’s integrated resource plan pledged to reduce carbon emissions 70% by 2030 compared with 2005 levels. The company said it would achieve net-zero carbon status by 2045.
To do so, it plans to add 3,200 megawatts of renewable generation over the next 10 years while retiring 1,200 megawatts in fossil fuels.
The plan outlined additions of 350 megawatts of solar power per year in 2023 and 2024, and 500 megawatts of wind per year in 2025 and 2026. Starting in 2028, the company says it will add 500 megawatts of renewable energy every year.
A graphic Evergy showed to investors this week outlines a different trajectory for its renewable resources.
It will only add 190 megawatts of solar energy in 2023 and none in 2024. Instead, it will add a combined 800 megawatts of wind energy in 2024 and 2025. The graphic doesn’t show additional solar power until 2026, when it says Evergy plans to add 350 megawatts.
All told, by 2026, Evergy’s updated plan is 360 megawatts short of earlier renewable generation goals.
In its Monday filing, it said that many of the solar projects that bid to work with Evergy were “immature in their development” and lacked key information.
“Though Evergy planned for 350 MW cost-effective solar in the filed IRP, the results of the (request for proposals) process … yielded only 190 MW of cost effective solar.”
In her statement, Penzig said inflation and supply chain issues made the planned solar projects too costly. There was also concern about getting the plans reviewed by the Southwest Power Pool, the regional grid to which Evergy belongs.
Penzig said when the plan is complete, renewable energy additions will be in line with the IRP.
“Our plan was updated to ensure we are balancing reliability and affordability as we transition to more sustainable energy sources,” she said. “Because of current constraints with adding solar, we have pushed some of those plans out and expect to add wind in 2024 and 2025.”
Natural gas and reliability
Penzig said the Lawrence Energy Center unit converted to run on natural gas will only run a few times a year, when demand for electricity is high. Evergy’s filing says that even with the plant partially operating, carbon emissions at the site will fall by 95%.
“While the recent winter storm highlighted the challenges around winter reliability, we continue to be a summer peaking utility and have to ensure we maintain reliability for those peaks,” Penzig said.
Gorman said burning natural gas was nearly as bad for the environment as coal.
“It’s not a solution to reduce Evergy’s contribution to the climate crisis,” he said.
The Sierra Club earlier this year gave Evergy a failing grade for its efforts to decarbonize its power supply. Even if it added solar at the pledged rate and closed Lawrence entirely, it would get a D, Gorman said.
He also noted the public comment deadline in Kansas on Evergy’s IRP is Nov. 1.
“Which means the utility already changed its actual resource plan in a formal notice before the public had participated in any comment on the now-outdated IRP,” Gorman said.
An earlier version of this article stated Evergy would convert its Lawrence coal plant to run on natural gas. It already has this capability.
This story was produced by the Kansas Reflector, a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering state government, politics and policy.