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Details of Massive KC Solar Project Begin to Emerge Evergy in the Mix

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Above image credit: An aerial view of the Florida Power & Light Echo River Solar Energy Center in Wellborn, Florida. The 500-acre solar farm with 330,000 panels opened in 2020 and produces 74.5 megawatts of energy, enough to power approximately 15,000 Florida homes. Kansas City is seeking to develop a solar farm that would generate about seven times as much power. (Paul Hennessy | NurPhoto via AP)
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3 minute read

As the days get longer and the sun hotter, details are beginning to emerge about Kansas City’s plans to use solar energy more boldly than any city in America.

Evergy, once known as Kansas City Power & Light Co., wants to be in the mix.

It has joined one of five consortiums that have responded to the city’s request for proposals to develop as many as 500 megawatts of solar energy at Kansas City International Airport, City Manager Brian Platt said.

Evergy remains mum and declines to be interviewed about its intentions — as it has been ever since Flatland in October 2021 broke the story that Kansas City is actively pursuing the development of solar panels on idle city land near KCI.

Chuck Caisley, chief customer officer at Evergy, 20 months ago said in a written statement, “We are always open to partnering opportunities for economic development and renewables in Kansas City.” 

Platt, in an interview, said that the city is now weighing fresh ideas that have been brought forth by contenders for the project.

That could include development of solar farms and deployment of solar panels elsewhere in the city, he said.

The initial plan was to develop 300 megawatts of power on 2,000 acres at KCI.

One year later, the solar goal grew to 500 megawatts — enough to power one-third of the homes in Kansas City — on 3,100 acres at the airport.

Brian Platt, city manager of Kansas City.
Brian Platt, city manager of Kansas City. (Courtesy | Greg Pallante)

Last fall, Platt said that the city’s request for proposals would close at the beginning of this year and the winning proposal was to have been unveiled months ago.

Asked about the delay, Platt said: “We got a lot more information and different proposals than we thought we would get. They have different solutions to the same problem.”

Some of those solutions include “creativity and innovations beyond where we thought the project would go,” he said.

“There have been proposals at the airport and other ideas to expand the amount of solar we would be able to produce in Kansas City,” Platt said. “Maybe a cheaper way to get to 500 megawatts would be using other locations.”

Platt declined to go into further details or name any other parties, other than Evergy, pursuing the bid. He said the filings the city received are still “internal closed records.” 

The city engaged the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, to evaluate its options.

Platt said he and his team will have a recommendation to make to the City Council by July 4 and the project should be taken up by the council over the summer.

The city manager said he did not think that the solar project would be affected by the outcome of the June 20 municipal election.

“I don’t think we are thinking about the election affecting the decision here,” Platt said.

“All five of the proposals have visions of hundreds of megawatts of solar here,” he said.

Whatever path forward, the city will reap revenue from spurring solar development.

“We are hoping the city will receive some amount of revenue from leasing the land,” Platt said. “A land lease is probably the way we’ll go.”

“It will be one of the largest solar arrays in the United States and a huge signal to the rest of the U.S.”

Brian Platt, city manager of Kansas City

Evergy for a century has built is business around pooling the capital needed to build large central generating stations powered by burning coal and natural gas — contributors to global warming and climate change — and harnessing nuclear fission.

In recent years, it has moved to embrace wind power in wind-rich central and western Kansas and it is beginning to move into solar power. 

The company has announced plans to add 2,290 megawatts of solar energy to its generation portfolio by 2041. By 2045, it intends to be carbon neutral.

Common sense would suggest that Evergy would be eager to be involved in a city-spurred solar project that would create one-fifth of the solar power the utility seeks and create major changes in the local electricity generation picture.

If Evergy is not a party to the city solar project, that could mean another major energy company would be putting its nose under the Kansas City tent that is currently an Evergy monopoly. 

As a long-standing player, Evergy is aware of all the technical, regulatory and business hurdles associated with tying new sources of electricity into the grid. That would involve using existing distribution and transmission infrastructure or the development of new power lines.

Gina Penzig, Evergy spokeswoman, said “thanks for reaching out” when asked to respond to the latest solar project update from the city manager. “We don’t have any comment on the city’s solar RFP or related matters.”

Platt said that solar development spurred by Kansas City government will command national attention and build on Kansas City’s growing commitment to sustainability. 

The city has strengthened building codes to cut energy waste and will plant 10,000 trees across the city over three years to roll back “heat islanding” caused when the sun beats down on unshaded streets, businesses and homes, driving up air conditioner usage.

The dawn of solar across the city would proceed slowly, with initial development of 30 or 40 megawatts at KCI. That would be followed by a more ambitious buildout in subsequent years.

“It will be one of the largest solar arrays in the United States and a huge signal to the rest of the U.S.,” Platt said.

“Five hundred megawatts, if we ever get there, will be tremendous.”

Martin Rosenberg is a Kansas City journalist and host of the Grid Talk podcast on the future of energy.

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