Lawrence City Commission to consider agreement to power city buildings with wind energy

photo by: Mike Yoder

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured Thursday, July 7, 2016.

City leaders will soon consider an agreement that would allow nearly all of the energy that powers city buildings to come from renewable sources.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider entering into a 20-year agreement with Evergy Energy, formerly Westar Energy, for 8 megawatts of renewable energy annually. The energy would be generated from the Ponderosa Wind Farm in Beaver County, Okla., and is projected to save the city about $100,000 per year.

Lawrence-Douglas County Sustainability Director Jasmin Moore said that Evergy contacted the city a couple weeks ago to make it aware of the opportunity. Moore said that the agreement would allow the city to reach one of the sustainability goals adopted by the City Commission ahead of schedule. Moore said the agreement would join with other recent progress, specifically the federal transit grant awarded the city last week to purchase several zero-emission buses.

“We really feel like the combination of that grant and this news really helps us to make a lot of progress toward the goals that were adopted,” Moore said.

In March, the commission adopted several sustainability goals, including the goal to power all city facilities with renewable energy by 2025. Moore said the agreement would cover about 98% of all energy use for municipal facilities. The agreement is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2021 when the wind farm is operational, according to a city staff memo to the commission.

The agreement allows large-demand customers to purchase blocks of renewable energy generated from the wind farm at a fixed Retail Energy Coast Adjustment Surcharge, not to exceed $0.018 per kilowatt hour for a 20-year term, according to the memo. The surcharge is one of multiple charges included on an energy bill and accounts for about 20% of the city’s total energy bill.

The city previously commissioned a cost-benefit analysis from the firm Black & Veatch regarding wind energy that found that from 2015 to 2019 the city’s five-year average for the surcharge was $0.021 per kWh. The report also identified that based on past years of energy usage, subscribing in the amount of 8 megawatts would provide the optimal savings for the city. The memo notes that if the city uses less than the contracted amount of energy, the agreement calls for Evergy to “buy back” the difference at 80% of the surcharge, or 1.44 cents per kWh.

The city commissioned the analysis after members of the public criticized the city for not entering into a wind energy agreement with Evergy when one was offered in 2018. At the time, Evergy — then Westar — provided an option for some of its large-demand customers, including Lawrence, to purchase wind energy at a fixed rate for the next 20 years. City staff said that it had been in the process of reviewing Westar’s offer but had not been able to determine whether it was a good idea before all the wind energy was spoken for.

The newest offer is part of a recently expansion of Evergy’s wind energy offerings. In January, Evergy announced that it would expand its wind energy portfolio by 660 megawatts and reduce carbon output by 80% below 2005 levels by 2050, according to an Evergy news release at the time. Evergy announced it would purchase wind energy from four additional sites, including Ponderosa Wind.

The City Commission will convene virtually at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, with limited staff members in place at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. The city has asked that residents participate in the meeting virtually, if they are able to do so, using temporary meeting procedures put in place to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Directions for submitting public comment and correspondence are included in the meeting agenda that is available on the city’s website.


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