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Prairie Village city government considering wind power for electric needs

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The Prairie Village City Council on Monday approved an agreement with Kansas City Power & Light that potentially could result in a significant portion of the city government’s electric needs coming from wind energy.

The agreement pledges that the city will buy power from an as-yet unbuilt wind farm in the region for 20 years. It still hinges on whether KCP&L can persuade enough local governments and other large electric customers in northeast Johnson County to follow Prairie Village’s lead.

Drew Robinson, the company’s manager of renewable energy, told the council he needs at least 100 megawatts of dedicated monthly peak demand to make building a new wind farm financially sustainable. Prairie Village has an average monthly peak demand of around 400 kilowatts.

Robinson said that if he is successful in getting enough customers to sign up, Prairie Village could begin seeing energy from the wind farm by 2021.

Council member Chad Herring said the agreement would shift the city’s electric demands from traditional fossil fuels to cleaner renewable energy as well as help KCP&L add more renewable resources to its energy portfolio.

“I think it would have a huge impact on greenhouse emissions in our area,” Herring said. “It is an important signal to our community that we lead on this.”

Besides increasing sustainability, the wind energy would likely cost the city less than what it currently pays for electricity, which is 2.15 cents per kilowatt hour. The exact cost of the wind farm energy hasn’t been determined, but Robinson said it would not be more than 2 cents per kilowatt hour.

City officials estimate the deal could save Prairie Village around $2,200 a year, or 1.3 percent of its annual bill. The agreement does not cover all of the city’s electricity needs, excluding such things as streetlights or energy uses that aren’t tracked with power meters.

Those savings could shrink or even disappear if the traditional fuel costs for electricity were to become as inexpensive or even more inexpensive than wind energy. Robinson said that was unlikely, noting that the company’s energy fuel costs last dipped below 2 cents a kilowatt hour in mid-2017 and have largely stayed above that price over the last six years.

“We’re happy to bring this product and show a way to not only help the city be greener and achieve those sustainability goals but also save some money,” Robinson said.

The council voted 11-0 in favor of the agreement. Council member Ted Odell abstained, citing a potential conflict of interest.

Council member Jori Nelson said she heard a lot of interest in Robinson’s proposal during recent meetings of the Metro KC Climate Action Coalition, a group representing local municipalities, nonprofit organizations and utilities looking at solutions to climate change.

“There’s going to be a lot of buy-in,” Nelson said. “I don’t think getting to the (100 megawatt) threshold is going to be a problem.”

In other business, the council approved a $25,000 upgrade to the audio system of the council chamber in City Hall. The system was last upgraded only two years ago and suffers from frequent glitches that can make it hard to hear council members, staff or public speakers during meetings, especially if someone is watching the meeting over the Internet. Conference Technologies Inc., which performed the upgrades in 2017, will perform this one as well.

The council also gave preliminary approval to the contribution requests of several public committees for the 2020 budget year – $20,000 for VillageFest, $10,000 for JazzFest, $8,000 for the city’s Environmental Committee and $14,500 for the Arts Council. The Arts Council plans to use part of its larger-than-expected fund balance to hold a series of chamber music concerts at City Hall later this year and next year.

David Twiddy: dtwiddy913@gmail.com

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