Customers may not notice it on their monthly bills, but they will be saving money on electricity in the coming years because of technological advances at KPL's Lawrence Energy Center.
Western Resources, KPL's parent company, showcased a new $3.5 million cooling tower Thursday that Bill Brown, KPL president, said will make the plant more efficient.
The improved efficiency will mean greater power-producing potential at the plant, but will not mean a drop on electric bills. As the state's power needs grow, higher efficiency will keep future costs down, he said.
"We're generating more energy using less fuel," he said. "It benefits everybody with lower cost and benefits everybody with lower emissions."
KPL paid for the new tower out of its capital funds, Michel' Quakenbush, director of marketing, said. The $3.5 million was not tied to any rate hike, she said.
"In fact, because we were able to put the improvement in, we were able to maintain stable rates," she said.
The Environmental Protection Agency regional office in Kansas City, Mo., has the Lawrence Energy Center on its list of plants that must comply with a second phase of air pollution regulations. Those regulations, which are still being formulated, will begin taking effect in 1997.
EPA will require a 50 percent reduction from the average plant's level of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions, said Jon Knodel, an EPA environmental engineer. Sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide, when released into the atmosphere, cause acidity in rain.
Brown said the Lawrence plant already has pollution-reducing devices that, depending on the final EPA regulations, should bring the plant within compliance of the second phase. The plant was not among the nation's 110 worst polluters targeted by EPA in phase one of acid rain regulations.
The cooling tower is a technological first, its designers said. Once it has proven results at the KPL plant, the designer, Marley Cooling Tower Co., Mission, plans to market it worldwide.
The day before the tower's demonstration, a contractor known for bridges, high rises and Toronto's Skydome, United Dominion Industries Ltd., Charlotte, N.C., signed a deal to purchase Marley. Marley has been manufacturing power plant cooling towers since 1939.
"One of the reasons United Dominion was excited about Marley was because of this product," said David M. Suptic, Marley's marketing manager.
Dale Larson, manager of plant construction who co-workers kidded for spending all his time at the new tower, explained the cooling process:
Fans with diameters as large as helicopter blades suck air at 20 mph through each of 12 "cooling cells." In a line, the cells stretch the length of two football fields.
Within each cooling cell, hot water percolates down through a lattice of pipes. Air passes across the lattice, cooling the water. The process produces some steam, making each cell seem like a drafty sauna.
Once the water is cooled -- from 108 degrees at the top to 88 degrees at the bottom -- it is pumped back into the plant's steam condenser. There, it helps convert the steam used to generate electricity back into water.
The tower pulls in 170,000 gallons of water a minute -- enough, plant officials say, to provide a family of four with a 2 1/2-year supply. It reuses 98 percent of the water. The other 2 percent evaporates.
The new tower took about a year and several local and regional contractors to develop and build.