Your Turn: Local officials should explore energy partnerships
Lawrence and Douglas County have sustainability goals, but may be thinking too small. Addressing plastic bags, recycling, and energy conservation are worthy goals but not sufficient for a world-class community.
Our community and country are driven by the need for reliable, affordable, responsible electric energy. All three elements are essential so that lights come on at the flick of a switch and businesses provide the goods and services we want. The transition to more intermittent (less than 24 hours per day) generation is being driven by two factors: 1) public demand for reduced carbon emissions, and 2) economics. Wind and solar generation are capital and price competitive with existing fossil fuel-generation units. What renewable generation struggles with is reliability. The answer to the sun not shining or the wind not blowing has been to construct more wind and solar facilities over larger geographic areas.
There is another answer that Lawrence and Douglas County residents and governments can encourage: energy storage combined with local generation. The farther one is from the energy source, the more at risk of having energy shortfalls. That is true for electricity, natural gas or gasoline. The coal-fueled Lawrence Energy Center (LEC) has been a tremendous benefit to Lawrence and Douglas County — locally produced electricity, a significant employer and a major property taxpayer. LEC will close in the next few years because of economics and politics. Yet, it has tremendous residual value because of the high voltage transmission lines connecting the site.
An economically viable option is for the LEC to become an energy storage hub using large-scale batteries that can store surplus wind and solar energy during peak generation periods and release that energy to the grid when it is needed. Not only is it economically and technically feasible, it is also a way to ensure electricity is available to our community and LEC remains an important source of employment and tax revenues.
Similarly, community solar provides local opportunities to cost-effectively generate electricity. Placing solar panels on brownfield, or contaminated industrial sites, is a way to generate affordable electricity, while minimizing site cleanup costs.
It is convenient to advocate for renewable energy that is located in remote areas, but high voltage transmission lines then need to be constructed to deliver that electricity to Lawrence. Those transmission lines are expensive, vulnerable to storm outages and take years to site and construct.
Please encourage Lawrence and Douglas County officials to explore partnerships with Evergy, the Kansas Corporation Commission (state regulatory agency) and others to develop energy storage and brownfield solar generation as solutions to our collective desire for reliable, affordable, responsible energy. Recently enacted federal tax laws provide incentives for private and public sector development of energy storage and solar generation. Just as Lawrence rose from the ashes of Quantrill’s raid, Lawrence and Douglas County can rise by promoting reliable, responsible, affordable locally sourced energy.
— Tom Sloan is a former state legislator representing portions of Douglas County who served on multiple advisory boards for the U.S. Department of Energy, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, among other groups that studied energy policies.