Plan to boost energy efficiency in Kansas City unveiled

The Kansas City Star

Kansas City Power & Light Co., the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and the city of Kansas City are joining forces to put commercial, government and other institutional buildings on an energy diet.

The partnership on Friday formally launched an initiative that aims by 2030 to slash the amount of electricity used in Kansas City by 5 percent. The goal is to make the area a leader in the nation for energy efficiency.

The Kansas City Energy Initiative calls for helping building owners save energy with more efficient lights, equipment upgrades, heating and cooling monitoring systems and other improvements.

The effort expands on Kansas City’s recent selection by the Natural Resources Defense Council to compete with nine other cities over the next three years to determine the best energy savings community. The environmental group said Kansas City was selected in part because it was the only one to form a collaboration with a utility and business group.

“This afternoon I couldn’t be prouder of Kansas City,” Mayor Sly James said at a news conference at KCP&L’s headquarters.

As part of the program, KCP&L is increasing its rebate cap from $50,000 to $250,000 for commercial customers who make energy efficiency improvements in their buildings.

Backers of Kansas City’s energy initiative expect the program to expand by next year to other cities in the area and become a bi-state effort. Each city will set its own goal for how much electricity it intends to save.

The effort is viewed as an opportunity to show that a city in the Midwest — considered a backwater for energy efficiency because of relatively low electric rates — can get serious about saving energy. Other cities in the Natural Resources competition include Orlando, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles.

The Kansas City initiative comes just weeks after proposed federal regulations were unveiled to reduce greenhouse gases nationally by 30 percent by 2030. Energy efficiency is expected to play a major role in meeting the required reductions. In Kansas, Missouri and some other states, the reductions in greenhouse gases called for are lower than 30 percent.

But Kansas City chamber officials said that even without the federal push, which could take years to fully implement, there are compelling reasons to do more now. It will mean an earlier start in helping to mitigate the effects of climate change, and businesses and other participants will save money from using less energy.

“The cheapest form of energy is the energy you don’t use,” said Jim Heeter, the chamber’s chief executive. “We have enthusiastic support from our membership.”

The energy initiative is likely to be a more serious effort than the chamber’s Climate Protection Partnership that made its debut in 2007. In that program, participating businesses, among other things, received guidance on how to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by their operation.

Ashok Gupta, the director of the new program for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Friday’s announcement in Kansas City was a “huge step in the right direction.”

Two of the environmental group’s employees are working in Kansas City on the initiative. One is helping the chamber, which will set up a one-stop shop to help building owners and managers make their properties more energy efficient. The other is working with the city of Kansas City, which is expanding the number of municipal buildings in its energy-efficiency program.

Gupta said he was confident the Kansas City initiative would be a serious effort.

“We’re going to make sure it happens,” said Gupta, who lives in the area.

Businesses may be taking climate change more seriously as well. Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Tom Steyer, a hedge-fund billionaire, released a report this week that said climate change and the problems it will cause are a business threat that could be costly.

The Kansas City initiative will succeed or fail on its support from businesses and institutions, supporters said. Some have already stepped forward to save energy, including Hallmark Cards Inc., the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and St. Luke’s Health System.

To be sure that energy is being saved, the initiative will depend on the federal Energy Star rating program. For example, the program will benchmark an office building’s energy use by comparing it to other office buildings. Those in the top 25 percent will be certified as an Energy Star buildings.

Meeting the standard will be eased by KCP&L’s expanded rebate caps. “We want to help,” said Chuck Caisley, a spokesman for KCP&L.

The rebates aren’t available yet in Kansas, but a state law passed earlier this year will allow them to eventually be offered there.

Some local governments, notably Johnson County and Kansas City, in the past few years have made improvements to reduce energy use, knowing they will be in the buildings for a long time and the savings will build.

Improvements such as more efficient LED lights and upgrades to heating and cooling systems provide huge savings. But so do systems that monitor a building’s heating and cooling. Kansas City saved $322,000 in electricity costs at City Hall, a municipal garage and one other facility in 2013.

“It’s not just changing out the light bulbs but how you mange the building,” said Dennis Murphey, chief environmental officer for the city.

Commercial building owners have been a tougher sell for energy efficiency partly because they aren’t sure how long they will own the buildings, and they can often just pass along the utility costs to tenants.

But MC Realty Group, which manages 13 million square feet of office space, warehouses and nursing homes, has been saving energy for years. It has slashed energy costs in about half the space it manages.

Motion sensors turn off lights when not needed. In one warehouse, replacing fluorescent lights with 495 LEDs cut electricity costs in half. Equipment upgrades for heating and cooling also have paid off.

The company aims for a 2-year payback, which is a 50 percent annual return on its investment.

“The bottom line is it makes money,” said Tom Corso, a vice president at MC Realty.