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Coal-burning power plants at issue in Independence

Updated: 2014-01-07T04:40:33Z

By BRIAN BURNES

The Kansas City Star

An Independence citizens group wants the city’s electric utility to consider retiring its two older, coal-burning power plants.

A meeting organized by the group, Indy Energy, will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at the North Independence branch of the Mid-Continent Public Library.

The two plants — the Missouri City and Blue Valley facilities — have been listed in a report by the non-profit Union of Concerned Scientists as candidates for retirement.

“These are some of the oldest plants in the state,” said Andy Knott, a St. Louis Sierra club member who will apear as part of a Saturday panel discussion.

“They are outdated and inefficient.”

The group also is urging that Independence Power & Light consider doubling its use of renewable energy.

“How the citizens get their energy hasn’t been a topic for community conversation for a long time,” said Jason White, a former Independence City Council member who helped organize the meeting.

“I know that most people don’t know that we own two power plants, and that they are only around for that summer air-conditioning surge every year.

“So why do we have these two antiques that have us dependent upon coal?”

The city will be represented on the panel by Leon Daggett, Independence Power & Light director, said City Manager Robert Heacock.

“Independence has been a good steward of its plants, and our staff has been committed to ensuring reliable power for our customers,” Heacock said. “In recent years we have made significant efforts to map a future that in large part includes renewable energy sources such as wind, as well as biomass.”

In 2008, Independence began buying wind power generated at the Smoky Hills turbine facility near Salina, Kan.

Wind power now represents about 5 percent of the utility’s electrical supply, Knott said, and the utility’s master plan recommends doubling that.

“That is a great goal,” said Knott. “Part of the conversation on Saturday will be encouraging the utility to continue down that path.”

Knott is a representative of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. He said there are 130 Sierra Club members in the Independence area.

Last year Independence officials authorized an agreement with Virens Energy Inc., which plans to generate power through a “gasification” process using wood chips or cornstalks in a biomass-fueled power generation facility on Vista Road in Independence.

While the city agreed to purchase power from the company, the Independence facility has yet to go online, said Heacock.

Currently, Independence Power & Light acquires much of its power from two coal-fired units: the Nebraska City Generating Station Unit 2 operated by the Omaha Public Power District, and the Iatan Generating Station Unit 2, operated by Kansas City Power & Light.

The city also has an ownership interest in a natural gas-fired plant in Pleasant Hill.

Independence Power & Light built the Blue Valley plant, at 21500 E. Truman Road, in 1958. It acquired the Missouri City plant, off Missouri 210 north of the Missouri River, in 1981.

Continued operation of both plants on coal would necessitate significant investments to meet anticipated environmental standards, according to the utility’s 2011 master plan update.

To reach Brian Burnes, call 816-234-4120 or send email to bburnes@kcstar.com.

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