The honeymoon is over for the Sierra Club and Kansas City Power & Light.
The environmental group sent a notice to the utility this week accusing it of failing to meet its obligations in a 2007 agreement ending a dispute over building the Iatan 2 coal-fired plant in northern Platte County.
In the 2007 pact, the group agreed to drop a lawsuit seeking to block the plant while KCP&L agreed to offset the plant’s pollution by using more renewable energy and getting its customers to use less electricity.
The utility contends it has fulfilled the agreement’s requirements.
But in an interview Thursday, Sierra Club attorney Holly Bressett said KCP&L got the power plant near Weston but had fallen far short in what it was supposed to do to curb emissions. She said the utility had missed its goal for more renewable energy by nearly one-third and failed to meet its energy efficiency goal by one-half.
“It’s discouraging to see KCP&L fall so woefully behind,” said Bressett, who also is a deputy director for the Sierra Club. “My question to KCP&L is: Where is the leadership?”
The group’s letter to KCP&L, a required legal notice, said it would have no choice but to file a lawsuit to enforce the agreement but that it would wait 30 days to try to resolve the issue.
In a separate notice, the Sierra Club said it intended to file a lawsuit accusing the utility of clean-air violations at three of its older coal-fired plants. Those plants are in St. Joseph and Sibley, Mo., and the Montrose plant in Kansas City.
Chuck Caisley, a spokesman for KCP&L, said the utility had met the obligations in the 2007 pact, and said the three other plants met all clean-air requirements. Among other things, he said, the utility has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on wind energy.
“As far as we’re concerned, we have met the terms of the collaboration,” he said.
He said although KCP&L rejected the Sierra Club’s allegations, the utility was ready to continue its collaboration with the group and work to resolve the disagreements.
The Concerned Citizens of Platte County, another opponent of the coal-fired plant that signed the agreement with KCP&L, said in a statement Thursday that the deal led to ground-breaking investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy for the area. But KCP&L needs to see it through to completion, the group said, and continue to diversify away from coal.
“We have held up our end of the bargain; they need to do the same,” said Debbie Woehrman, a spokeswoman for the group.
The dispute sets a far different tone from when the agreement was unveiled in 2007. A joint announcement said the agreement could “serve as a model for environmental groups and utilities working together.”
At the time, the Platte County group was ecstatic, and an attorney for the Sierra Club said the agreement was the most far-reaching ever made with a utility in the United States. The environmental group said KCP&L was raising the bar and making it impossible for any responsible utility to ignore global warming.
But over the last year, there were signs that KCP&L’s relationship with the Sierra Club was deteriorating. The environmental group disagreed with the utility’s decision to spend more than $1 billion to upgrade one of its coal-fired plants in Kansas instead of converting it to natural gas or using more renewable energy.
The group also expressed its disappointment with KCP&L’s plans to rein in a rebate program that encourages homes and business to install solar-energy systems.
The 2007 agreement called for KCP&L to provide 400 megawatts of renewable energy and reduce demand by 300 megawatts through energy efficiency programs. Those goals were to be met by the end of 2012. Bressett of the Sierra Club said the group realized that KCP&L had fallen short after receiving information from the utility in July.
Instead of being a leader as hoped, she said, KCP&L is now trailing many utilities that are slashing their use of coal, such as MidAmerican Energy in Iowa. The national average for the use of coal by utilities is 40 percent. KCP&L’s is 70 percent, Bressett said.
“This is a company that has doubled down on coal,” she said.
Caisley said this year the figure for coal was roughly 66 percent, with the rest of its supply provided by nuclear, wind, natural gas and wholesale electricity purchases. The Sierra Club’s agenda was to get rid of coal-fired plants as quickly as possible, but KCP&L is taking a more measured approach, he said, and has recently been considering using more wind energy.
“I’m hopeful we can get together” with the Sierra Club, Caisley said.