Mayor Sly James of Kansas City joined mayors and governors across the nation to reclaim leadership on clean energy and climate change. President Donald Trump and his administration’s abdication on the issue is troubling. However, James’ pledge to abide by the terms of the Paris climate accord here in Kansas City is heartening. It’s yet another example of what Kansas Citians have known for a long time: You can improve both the environment and the city’s bottom line.
In 2008, Kansas City adopted the Climate Protection Plan, which set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for municipal operations and the city as a whole. By the end of 2013, Kansas City achieved a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from municipal operations compared to 2000 levels and a 4 percent reduction citywide. Kansas City achieved much of its reduction by improving efficiency of electricity usage by 21 percent. City Hall is an excellent example of being one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the region.
The mayor and City Council adopted a benchmarking ordinance in 2015 that requires owners of buildings larger than 50,000 square feet to measure and report their energy usage. Why is this relevant to climate change? Because you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Having access to information on energy consumption allows building owners and tenants to have a better idea of how much energy they use relative to other similar buildings and how they can be more energy-efficient.
These type of efforts are already paying dividends. Kansas City is ranked No. 16 on the EPA’s list of top cities of Energy Star-certified buildings. Certified buildings have to outperform 75 percent of similar buildings in energy efficiency.
Kansas City businesses and residents are now able to make capital improvements that make their properties more energy-efficient through the Property Assessed Clean Energy program. The economic and environmental benefits created by the program can be achieved with no out-of-pocket costs to property owners.
The city has a great strategic partner in Kansas City Power & Light, which has long administered energy-efficiency programs that the city, businesses and residents have tapped into — including those that target low-income multi-family buildings.
In addition, KCP&L’s recent announcement that it plans to retire six coal generating units at three of its power plants will help all Kansas Citians reduce their carbon footprint by providing cleaner sources of electricity, with up to 20 percent of electricity now coming from wind power.
KCP&L is also a national leader in providing electric vehicle charging stations. As a result, the Kansas City area has seen a significant increase in electric vehicle purchases.
The mayor and City Council should set new energy efficiency, renewables and climate goals for 2025 and 2030. As part of those goals, Kansas City should commit to 100 percent clean energy for its operations, including the proposed new airport terminal.
Many corporations around the world are committing to 100 percent renewable power for their operations. Kansas City corporations should be at the forefront of these efforts.
We are fortunate that we live in a vibrant, dynamic city where our elected and business leadership understands and values energy efficiency and sustainability efforts. Kansas City should be proud of the efforts it has already made to be well-positioned for the 21st century.
Now is the time to not only achieve the goals laid out in the Paris agreement but also to reach higher and show the world what Kansas City is capable of.
Ashok Gupta is a senior energy economist at the Natural Resources Defense Council and a resident of Kansas City.