The city of Independence owns two power plants, which we primarily use during the summer to produce electricity to help run our air conditioners.
Otherwise Independence Power and Light buys our electricity from some newer, huge coal power plants in Nebraska and Weston, Mo., and a new gas-power plant in Pleasant Hill.
One of our coal-powered plants (in Missouri City) is the oldest power plant in the state. The other power (in the Little Blue River valley) is the fourth oldest in the state.
As the city considers its options for after January 2016 – IPL’s projected date to shut down Missouri City and switch Blue Valley to natural gas – one of the least desirable options would be to build a new coal power plant in Independence.
The reasons are simple: New coal plants are staggeringly expensive, cheaper alternatives exist, and electrical utilities are moving in a different direction.
That’s not my opinion but the considered judgment of electrical companies across the nation.
The American Public Power Association (IPL belongs) just published a report on new generating capacity that is either under construction, permitted or pending. The data, from across the country, paint a pretty clear picture of a different energy future.
The annual new generation report, first published in 2007, notes this significant change in the past seven years:
“The most notable development is the steep decline in coal’s share: from a high of over 40 percent in 2009 to just below 3 percent in 2014. On the other hand, the amount of solar capacity under construction has increased from a fraction of a percent to over ten percent in the latest (2014) report.”
In times past, building a new coal power plant was a common and economical reaction to increasing demand for electricity.
Due to the increased energy efficiency of our homes and appliances as well as the recent economic downturn, demand for electricity dropped for several years and only recently started to increase again. IPL’s job is to plan ahead and make sure we have the electricity when we want it, making the process of predicting changing consumer demand a critical aspect.
The recent (2011) master plan for IPL listed building a new coal power plant as the least favorable of the options it considered when evaluating future power sources.
Recently, I have joined other citizens in studying energy issues in Independence and we have a web site at www.indyenergy.org, which has the IPL master plan for anyone to view along with the APPA new generation report.
This can be a complex topic, but we need to become better informed. IPL, based on 2011 rankings, is among the 100 largest public power electrical utilities based on residential customers (No. 51) and total revenue (No. 97).
Building new coal power plants has fallen out of favor for both economic and environmental reasons. The IPL master olan notes that more than 100 planned coal plants had been dropped from consideration nationwide, and the Sierra Club notes the closing (or announced closing) of more than 150 old coal power plants throughout the country.
The use of coal for power generation has dropped nationwide in the last few years although most believe that it will remain the source of at least 35 percent of our country’s power for many years to come. Switching to other, cleaner sources will take time.
Googling around the mainstream media leads to stories of tremendous cost overruns with the few coal power plants still being built (Mississippi plant under construction now at $5 billion instead of the $2.8 billion when planned) and more proposals being delayed (Georgia plant being postponed due to increasing costs) and serious political upheaval around coal power plants being proposed (Kansas Sunflower plant).
New technology to make new coal power plants environmentally friendly as well as economical is years if not decades away.
As Independence citizens (the owners of IPL) consider how we will meet our future energy needs, after we phase out of our own coal power plants, building a new coal fired power plant is no longer a viable option. This is a big decision, involving big dollars.
And our rates already are higher than the investor-owned Kansas City Power & Light.
Massive investment in new coal capacity does not make sense for the ratepayers – the same conclusion other utilities understand and we should readily acknowledge.
Jason White is a former Independence City Council member. He is involved with the local group Indy Energy.