Council delays turbine decision

By Mike Genet
The Examiner USA TODAY NETWORK

Faced with a seven-figure decision on whether to repair a combustion, the Independence City Council has decided to wait for more information about long-term plans for Independence Power & Light. 

At question is a potential $1.9 million repair to one of the city’s six gas turbines, one of the two most frequently requested by Southwest Power Pool during peak demand. A recent fault made that turbine inoperable, and its 17 megawatts of capacity are required for the city’s obligation with the power pool. The Southwest Power Pool is the wholesale power broker that covers much of the country’s central plains. 

The council voted this week to postpone its decision until December. IPL is developing options to replace the six turbines, and if new on-site generation is the answer, that process would take about three years. The city plans to gather and evaluate proposals from potential vendors in the fall and have a clear plan in December. 

Mayor Eileen Weir proposed tabling the turbine repair until then. After the council earlier this year approved $1.5 million for another turbine repair, she had vowed not to spend more for short-term fixes. 

“This is a large amount of money to commit,” Weir said. “I realize we can’t prolong it forever, but I would like this to be part of a longer-term plan.” 

General Electric staff told the council the $1.9 million figure would be a worst-case scenario for the repairs; the repair could take from three weeks to two months. IPL Director Jim Nail said he believes the most likely cost would be about $1.1 million to $1.3 million. 

Tom Freeman from GE told the council his company is seeing more utilities invest in repairs for similar older power units such as IPL’s gas-powered turbine, simply because technology for renewable energy is still developing. 

With a postponement, Nail said, IPL might well need to buy some short-term capacity at about $50,000 a month plus transmission costs, unless the power pool grants a waiver. 

“I don’t know that there is a hard-and-fast (power pool) rule on how long an outage can go,” he said, as that can depend on what SPP needs for peak usage times. “If they want the capacity for the summer, we’ll go out and look.” 

The city has an option to buy additional capacity from Oneta – the natural gas-powered plant in Oklahoma with which the city contracted a couple of years ago to replace power from the old Blue Valley plant in Independence – to fill its power needs. That would cost about a half-million dollars annually, Nail said, though IPL would have to commit to that through 2030.  

If the city repaired the turbine and kept it for some time in addition to building new, long-term generation, Nail said, the city could sell its excess capacity and possibly cover the repair cost. 

SOLAR FARM LIMITS LIFTED: The council Monday unanimously voted to lift limits on how much residential and commercial customers can buy into the IPL’s community solar farm, which currently is about 61 percent subscribed with waning new interest.  

Participating customers are charged a monthly fee of $2.37 per kilowatt/hour, and residential customers are limited to 40 percent of their average monthly usage that can be solar. For businesses, the limit has been 33 percent of solar capacity for individual accounts, with no more than 85 percent of solar subscribed by all commercial participants.  

The limits had been in place to encourage more overall customers. Fully subscribed, the revenues from solar still would not come close to covering IPL’s extra cost for purchasing the solar farm power as obligated. Currently, that cost is $880,000 annually.