Soon to be home to one of the largest battery plants, Kansas is struggling to be a leader when it comes to buying electric vehicles
photo by: John English/Special to the Journal-World
Steel beam by steel beam, the Panasonic battery plant in nearby De Soto grows. As it does, look for Kansas to grow its claim of being one of the largest magnets for clean energy projects in the U.S.
A new project by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a private research group is producing new statistics that show Kansas already is in an elite group of states in terms of attracting clean energy projects. But the same project also is showing that Kansas is one of the worst states when it comes to consumers buying electric vehicles and adopting other green energy technologies.
The Clean Investment Monitor — produced by MIT’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research and the Rhodium Group — has found that Kansas is having its economy transformed by clean energy projects more than most.
From July 2022 to July 2023, manufacturing projects to support the clean energy industry — the Panasonic plant is an example of such a project — boosted the Kansas economy by the seventh largest amount in the country. Specifically, the group was measuring how much clean energy manufacturing grew the gross domestic product of a state. In Kansas, such manufacturing grew the Kansas economy by a half-percentage point. Only six other states got a bigger boost from such manufacturing projects, with Tennessee getting the biggest at about 1.3%.
But there is an important caveat to the Kansas numbers. It basically boils down to this: Researchers have only counted a fraction of the investment Kansas is in line to receive. Since the cutoff date for the latest report was July 2023, the researchers aren’t yet counting the full $4 billion that Panasonic plans to invest in the De Soto plant.
Instead, researchers have estimated about $1 billion has been invested thus far. In other words, in the next year to year-and-a-half, another $3 billion is expected to be invested at the site. When researchers count those numbers, Kansas almost certainly will climb higher on the list, and might take the No. 1 spot.
If so, Kansas will have an even stronger claim to make as being one of the most progressive states in the country when it comes to embracing clean energy — at least in terms making products for clean energy.
The same report, though, shows Kansas has a long ways to go before it can ever claim to be one of the most progressive states in actually buying clean energy products, like electric vehicles.
The Clean Investment Monitor found Kansas ranked 42nd in terms of electric vehicle purchases, as measured as a percentage of a state’s gross domestic product. That last part is important because it allows small states to be compared to larger states. Kansas is never going to be near the top of the list of electric vehicle purchases in terms of total dollars because Kansas has a lot fewer residents than states like California and New York. However, measuring what percentage of a state’s total economy goes toward purchasing electric vehicles does allow for some comparisons.
The researchers found that 0.10% of Kansas GDP in the last year went toward purchasing electric vehicles. Only eight states — mostly oil- and coal-producing states — had lower percentages. If you are keeping score, North Dakota had the lowest at 0.04% of GDP going towards electric vehicle purchases.
The map below provides a glance at which states had the largest share of their economy go toward electric vehicle purchases. The darker the color on the map, the larger the share.
photo by: Courtesy Clean Investment Monitor
There are other types of clean energy purchases that the project measures, such as heat pumps and electricity storage devices often used with wind and solar energy in homes. When you add those categories into the mix and total all retail purchases for clean energy, Kansas fares even worse. It ranks 45th in the country. The map below shows which states have the largest part of their economies going toward such purchases, again with the darker states having a larger share.
photo by: Courtesy Clean Investment Monitor
Of our neighboring states, only Nebraska was less into buying clean energy products than Kansas during the past year. To the surprise of few, Colorado is adopting green energy at a much faster rate. Colorado saw clean energy purchases make up 0.42% of its state’s GDP, compared to 0.17% in Kansas, during the one-year time period. More surprising is that Missouri is adopting green energy at twice the rate of Kansas, and Oklahoma is doing so at an even greater rate, with such purchases making up 0.38% of its state’s GDP.
As for general updates on Panasonic, work is continuing at the site, and many of the key dates remain the same. The plant expects to be producing batteries in early 2025. Hiring will really ramp up next year, with projections of about 200 employees per month being hired throughout the year, local leaders have been told. Many of the jobs will pay $20 to $25 per hour, but many production positions also are likely to involve 12-hour work shifts, according to information shared with various leaders.