Published October 5th, 2022 at 12:09 PM
Kansas and Missouri’s largest utilities earned nearly failing grades for their progress transitioning to renewable sources of energy, according to a new report from a national environmental group.
The Sierra Club’s “Dirty Truth About Utility Climate Pledges” report gave Evergy an 18% for its investments in clean energy and moves to retire coal plants. Ameren Missouri got a 32%.
Worst was Associated Electric Cooperatives Inc., which serves small electric utilities in Missouri. It received a 0% for its lack of plans to add sources of renewable energy by 2030.
Jenn DeRose, Missouri’s campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said there was “no excuse for moving slowly on the clean energy transition.”
“Ameren, AECI and Evergy have known for decades that burning fossil fuels exacerbates the extreme heat, drought, wildfires and floods that we’re seeing in the Midwest,” DeRose said.
The report marks Sierra Club’s second annual report measuring utilities based on their plans to retire coal plants, build clean energy generators and avoid adding new natural gas plants. Both Ameren and Evergy gained a few points from last year, but AECI lost ground.
“Kansas is uniquely positioned to be a global leader in wind and solar generation, which makes it disappointing that Evergy is not more ambitious in its forward-looking transition from coal and gas to clean energy,” said Ty Gorman, Kansas campaign representative for Sierra Club.
Evergy serves 1.6 million customers across the Kansas City metropolitan area and much of eastern Kansas and western Missouri.
The company has set a target to reduce emissions by 50% by 2040 and achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2045. It plans to stop burning coal at its Lawrence Energy Center and add renewable energy in the next few years, though it backed off of more ambitious plans.
Since Sierra Club’s first report, Evergy has trimmed coal and gas generation, though its capacity increased. It plans to retire more coal production and add more clean energy by 2030. But it plans to replace just 28% of its coal and gas generation by 2030, according to the report.
In a statement, Evergy’s spokeswoman, Gina Penzig, said the company “has made industry leading progress in increasing sustainability and providing our customers with clean energy.”
Compared to 2005, she said, Evergy has reduced carbon emissions by almost half and added 4,400 megawatts of renewable energy generation and retired 2,400 megawatts of fossil generation.
“Evergy’s clean energy plans are appropriately timed and balanced to maintain reliability and affordability while advancing our clean energy goals,” Penzig said, adding that the report doesn’t acknowledge progress and “reflects only their narrow mission to eliminate all fossil fuel generation immediately.”
Gorman said Evergy has to look just to the south at the Public Service Company of Oklahoma, which received a 100% score in the report for retiring coal plants, expanding renewable energy and avoiding building new gas plants.
“Other utilities are demonstrating that it’s technically achievable,” Gorman said. “Now it’s up to Evergy’s leadership to make it happen.”
Ameren provides power to St. Louis and much of eastern Missouri and the bootheel.
The company announced this summer it would achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2045, five years sooner than its previous plan. It gained points in the Sierra Club’s report for plans to add more wind and solar power, provide energy efficiency programs and retire its Rush Island coal plant, though that is required by court order.
Ameren’s chief renewable development officer, Ajay Arora, said in a statement that the utility’s updated plan “safeguards reliability and resilience for customers for years to come while focusing on affordability.” Arora said the company has accelerated the pace of new wind and solar generation additions by 2030 and plans to retire four fossil-fired energy centers in Missouri and Illinois in the same timeline.
“By investing billions of dollars in clean energy, we anticipate creating thousands of jobs, growing our solid base of carbon-free generation and supporting communities across Missouri,” he said.
Ameren, however, plans to add a gas and hydrogen plant in 2031.
According to the Sierra Club, AECI has no stated climate goals and no plans to retire coal plants or add additional sources of renewable energy by 2030
AECI did not return a request for comment.
Allison Kite is a data reporter for the Missouri Independent, where this story first appeared, with a focus on the environment and agriculture.