Sometimes you just have to get involved. It’s that simple. On Saturday, I attended the public forum sponsored by Indy Energy. I wrote about this topic in my column two weeks ago.
Indy Energy , a utility watchdog group, is pressing Independence Power and Light to adhere to recommendations given in a study by Sega Engineering and Technical Services, regarding IPL’s two coal-burning power plants – Missouri City and Blue Valley – the oldest and fourth oldest coal-burning power plants in the state.
Present at the forum were representatives from Indy Energy, the Missouri Sierra Club, Local 53 of the International Brotherhood Electrical Workers and Independence Power and Light. (Approximately 320 IBEW members work at the two power plants.) Each of these groups is passionate about its positions, yet each spoke eloquently and politely to, and about, the other stakeholders.
IPL Director Leon Daggett indicated the utility plans to close the Missouri City plant by January 2016. He also noted that the Blue Valley plant was originally built as a natural-gas fueled plant (producing electricity) until the 1970s, when, during the natural gas shortage, the government mandated conversion to coal. IPL will convert the Blue Valley plant back to natural gas by January 2016.
IPL gets 4.5 percent of its energy from renewable sources. It buys wind-powered electricity from the Smokey Hills wind farm in Kansas. IPL plans to double this amount by 2018.
Every person at the table wanted the same thing – safe, reliable, efficient and affordable electric power. This is not as simple as it sounds and, in fact, this is exactly where the disagreements and discussions begin.
In a perfect world, every time we flip a switch electricity would come on powered by solar, wind or biomass. However, we are a long way from this reality. Existing power plants have to be retrofitted, while additional renewable power sites need to be built in closer proximity to urban areas. As more renewable power sites are built, advancements in storage, delivery and consistency will be resolved.
At the end of this forum, I was left with one thing in mind. There are three types of conventional electric power plants – coal, natural gas and nuclear. None of these are appealing for many reasons. The problem of converting everything immediately to renewable resource production is that these systems are not perfected for carrying 100 percent of a city’s power demands.
Here lies the dilemma: Do nothing and continue with the status quo and these important advancements do not occur. Or, push the envelope, press the issue, if necessary, make it law to promote and use increasing amounts of renewable resource-generated power. Only in this way will real advancements in technology be made.
This quandary is really two-fold – production and consumption. The conversation has surrounded production. It needs to include consumption and the need to educate people that an increase in electric power production decreases natural resources. The only way to reduce the need for increased production, no matter the source, is to slow consumption.
Lynn Youngblood is the executive director of the Blue River Watershed Association in Kansas City, a residential energy client service coordinator certified by the National Energy Retrofit Institute, and a past nature center manager with the Missouri Department of Conservation.