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Kansas City Power & Light will stop using coal at some of its generating units

Kansas City Power & Light’s decision to use less coal is a milestone in a region where it has long been king when it comes to making electricity.
Kansas City Power & Light’s decision to use less coal is a milestone in a region where it has long been king when it comes to making electricity. The Associated Press

Kansas City Power & Light, facing tougher environmental regulations, plans to curb its use of coal to generate electricity.

The utility said Tuesday that generating units at its Montrose, Sibley and Lake Road power plants will be shuttered or converted to use natural gas starting in 2016. The affected units generate about 700 megawatts of power, which amounts to a nearly 19 percent reduction in the utility’s coal-generating capacity.

“After evaluating options for future environmental regulation compliance, ending coal use at these plants is the most cost effective and cleanest option for our customers,” said Terry Bassham, CEO of KCP&L.

The utility will still have 3,080 megawatts of coal-fired generation. With its increased use of natural gas and renewable energy, and an emphasis on improving users’ energy efficiency, the utility says it will have more than enough power to serve KCP&L’s 812,000 customers.

KCP&L has another 400 megawatts of wind energy on the way, and an energy efficiency program was recently broadened in Missouri.

The decision to use less coal is a milestone in a region where it has long been king when it comes to making electricity.

The Sierra Club applauded the move. In the past it has been critical of the utility, especially after it decided to spend heavily on pollution scrubbers for its La Cygne coal-fired plant so it could continue to use coal instead of converting the plant to cleaner burning natural gas.

“KCP&L’s transition away from coal and embrace of clean energy is the absolute best path forward for its customers and for clean air,” said Holly Bender, deputy director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign. “KCP&L is leading Missouri’s utility sector in its commitment to innovation and steady progress on clean energy.”

The utility’s decision will affect older plants in St. Joseph, Clinton and Sibley, Mo., dating as far back as 1958.

The utility’s Montrose power plant in Clinton will stop using coal completely. One of the plant’s generating units will be closed or converted to natural gas by 2016. The remaining two units will be closed or converted by 2021.

A generating unit at its Lake Road plant in St. Joseph will be converted to use natural gas by 2016. The Sibley plant will convert or close two units by 2019. Those two plants will continue to have some units that burn coal.

KCP&L said Tuesday that recent Environmental Protection Agency regulations would have required significant investments in the units now set to stop burning coal.

“As the nation moves to a cleaner, more sustainable energy future, our industry is facing increasing environmental scrutiny … focused on coal-fired generation,” Bassham said.

U.S. electric utilities have abandoned coal when it comes to building new generating power, with renewables and natural gas taking its place. Natural gas emits pollution but not as much as coal. Natural gas over the last several years has become cheaper, which has also helped it make inroads.

For some time, KCP&L has evaluated whether its older and smaller generating units would be able to meet tougher regulations or would have to stop using coal.

The utility has also been under pressure from the Sierra Club, which has been in talks with KCP&L to curb its use of coal. In 2013, the environmental group sent a notice of intent to sue KCP&L for more than 8,000 clean-air violations at its coal-fired plants.

John Hickey, president of the the Missouri chapter of the Sierra Club, said KCP&L’s decision sends a message that it will be easy to also meet the EPA’s regulations to reduce greenhouse gases.

“This is huge,” he said. “We hope other utilities in the state will embrace this transition.”

To reach Steve Everly, call 816-234-4455 or send email to severly@kcstar.com.

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