Westar to get half its energy from zero-emission sources

A Westar Energy worker handles a new power line in this file photo. The company says it will get half the power it sells from zero-emission sources by next year.
A Westar Energy worker handles a new power line in this file photo. The company says it will get half the power it sells from zero-emission sources by next year. File photo

After years of adding wind power to its generating resources, Westar Energy will get half the power it sells from zero-emission sources by next year, a company official said.

Westar is on track to get 33 percent of its power from wind and 17 percent from the Wolf Creek nuclear power plant near Burlington, said company vice president Jeff Beasley.

With just short of 700,000 customers, Westar is the dominant electric company in Kansas.

Last week, shareholders approved the sale of Westar to Great Plains Energy, the parent company of Kansas City Power & Light. If regulators approve the sale and the merger takes place next year, the combined company will get about 45 percent of its power from zero-emission sources, Great Plains CEO Terry Bassham said in a statement.

“We will have one of the largest wind generation portfolios in the United States,” Bassham said. “This helps us maintain reliable, low cost energy for all of the residential and business customers we serve.”

In a news conference, Gov. Sam Brownback praised what he called the “amazing growth of wind energy in this state.”

It began in earnest in 2007 when then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius set the goal of Kansas getting 10 percent of its energy from wind by 2010 and 20 percent by 2020.

Wind expansion continued through the Mark Parkinson and Brownback administrations and has already exceed Sebelius’ original goal.

Overall, Brownback said, the state is now getting about 30 percent of its energy from wind and he hopes to get that up to 50 percent by the time he leaves office in early 2019.

“There’s been nearly $10 billion of wind development in this state and most of that’s been in the last five years, so this continues to really grow,” he said.

While nuclear power is not usually considered a “renewable” energy source like wind and solar, it doesn’t give off carbon emissions and is immune to federal regulations aimed at reducing carbon dioxide gas, a by-product of burning fossil fuels that scientists say is responsible for harmful global climate change.

Beasley participated in an energy round-table discussion hosted in Wichita on Friday by Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran to hear from oil, gas and utility interests.

At that event, Beasley said the company has spent heavily to ensure that its coal- and gas-fired power plants meet federal emissions standards, but the company doesn’t get enough credit from federal regulators for that and all the wind energy it’s added to the mix.

He told Moran and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who also participated in the event, that the problem is that air-quality standards are constantly shifting and are inconsistent from state to state.

Complaints about federal regulations got a more-than-sympathetic ear from Barrasso, who hails from an energy-producing state where he said the motto is “oil and gas is our bread and butter.”

While wind and solar have made strides, there continues to be “a huge gap between renewable and reliable energy,” he said.

Barrasso, the second-ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said he helped create the pro-coal-oil-and-gas energy plank in the Republican Party platform at last month’s national convention and has been “trying to get Donald Trump to embrace it.”

He said President Obama is “putting us at a unilateral disadvantage” against countries like China and India that get their energy from burning fuel, without making much impact on the overall emissions of carbon gases worldwide.

“We’re a world energy power and we have to start acting like it,” he said.

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3