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New Solar+Storage Megaproject a ‘Game Changer’ for Kansas Utilities

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A massive proposed solar+storage project in Kansas City could be a “game-changer” that shuts down claims that fossil fuels are still needed as a backstop for when the sun doesn’t shine.

“A spokesperson for NextEra Energy confirmed the company is seeking land near Kansas City for a project that could include up to 500 megawatts each of solar and storage capacity,” reports Energy News Network (ENN). The project would be the largest of its kind in the U.S.

Kansas Sierra Club representative Zack Pistora described the news as “amazing,” telling ENN that while “the argument always has been with these intermittent resources that we still need gas plants and coal to cycle on and off,” the level of storage being promised by NextEra will put those arguments in the past.

“It drives home to me that we are entering the end of the fossil fuel era when it comes to electricity,” Pistora said.

In addition to using storage to overcome intermittency, utilities can also use it as a backup during periods of peak demand, further avoiding the need to turn to fossils. The storage could also be a boon for cost efficiency.

“They can charge the battery with cheap wind or solar power when it is plentiful and discharge it when power is in greater demand and fetching a higher price,” notes ENN, citing Phil Clement, a NextEra project director.

More utilities and communities may follow NextEra’s example and “seize the opportunity for more renewable power,” said Kimberly Svaty, public policy director for the pro-renewable Kansas Power Alliance. Evergy, an investor-owned Kansas utility serving about 1.6 million customers in the eastern half of Kansas and much of western Missouri, now offers a program called Renewables Direct, which “provides renewable energy that subscribers will use to run their operations.” Twelve municipalities and three counties have signed up for the option.

While an Evergy spokesperson declined to answer ENN’s query about whether it is interested in securing a slice of NextEra’s solar-plus-storage pie, the utility clearly knows which way the wind is blowing. Thanks in part to a January intervention by shareholder Elliott Management, which declared itself “unsatisfied” by Evergy’s current mix of 27% renewable power and 66% fossil power, the utility is “assessing whether to speed up the closing of some of its fossil-fuelled plants and replace them with more renewables,” ENN writes. Its new Sustainability Transformation Plan commits to eliminating 80% of its 2005 emissions by 2050, “and the company is considering adopting a goal of an 85% reduction by 2030.”

As for NextEra’s megaproject, ENN notes that it still needs land upon which to build, and a secure customer base. The company is currently out shopping for both.

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