renewable energy

Wind turbines have become a common sight on Iowa’s landscape.
File: Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Even as wind energy production has grown in recent years to be a large part of the country’s energy portfolio, a chill around federal funding for renewable energy has researchers increasingly turning to industry partners to bring the next generation of innovation to the marketplace.

Nearly all of the ethanol blended into U.S. gasoline is made from corn, not from other plants.
File: Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

On a sweltering summer morning, Rob Mitchell surveys a plot of switchgrass at a research field near Lincoln, Nebraska. The grass is lush, green and nearly six feet tall.

“And it will get a couple feet taller than this,” says Mitchell, an agronomist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “So we’re putting on a lot of biomass right now.”

GarrettTT / Flickr -- CC

When you flip a light switch or plug something into an outlet, something usually happens. Lights come on, iPhones get charged. But where does that energy come from in Kansas City? How are we using it, and what is the future of energy here?

Then, the story of Aldo Leopold, a Missourian and a passionate early writer about nature and conservation.

Guests:

Clean Line Energy Partners website

For the second time in three years, a massive electricity line project is back in Missouri seeking approval. 

The Grain Belt Express Clean Line would connect Kansas wind turbines to the eastern states with an 800-mile-long overhead transmission line. The company running the $2 billion project says it has approvals from three of the four states in its path, only Missouri stands in the way.

The transmission line is supported by  utility companies and unlikely bedfellows such as the Sierra Club and Walmart.

The E Energy ethanol plant near Adams, Neb., processes nearly 50 millions gallons of ethanol annually.
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

A new U.S. government study claims ethanol is better for the environment than most scientists initially expected, boosting an industry that is a boon to Midwest farmers but challenged by many environmental groups and the oil industry.

The Delta Montrose Electric Association outside Montrose, Colorado, developed micro-hydro power plants in partnership with local water users.
Cally Carswell / for Inside Energy

In the 1930s, rural electric cooperatives brought electricity to the country’s most far-flung communities, transforming rural economies. In Western Colorado, one of these co-ops is again trying to spur economic development, partly by generating more of their electricity locally from renewable resources, like water in irrigation ditches and the sun.

Courtesy of KCP&L

Kansas City Power and Light has agreed to buy wind energy from two plants now under construction in northwest Missouri.

NextEra Energy Resources is building its Osborn wind farm east of St. Joseph. It’s expected to be up and running by the end of the year and provide 200 megawatts of energy. A little further north, Tradewind Energy plans to complete the 300 megawatt Rock Creak wind farm near Tarkio, Missouri by September 2017.

Kansas City Power & Light wants to build a solar farm in southeastern Jackson County, near Greenwood.

If the Missouri Public Service Commission greenlights the application next month, the solar farm could be online as soon as April.

“The sun and sunshine is free, so to the extent we can harness that, there’s very little operational cost to running this solar farm,” says KCP&L spokesman Chuck Caisley.

Photo courtesy Cromwell Solar

Kansas’ largest utility company this week agreed to cut a proposed rate increase nearly in half and split off a controversial solar energy element for further study.

David Springe, the lead attorney for the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board, had advocated both measures shortly after Westar Energy proposed the $152 million rate increase in March.

Clean Power Plan Faces Uncertain Future In Kansas

Aug 4, 2015

The Clean Power Plan  that President Barack Obama announced Monday is designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants — the largest source of those emissions — by almost a third by the year 2030, compared to 2005 levels.

How that will play out in Kansas remains to be seen.

Gov. Sam Brownback issued a statement Monday criticizing the president’s proposal regarding U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules.

Utility companies that operate coal-burning power plants in the area say they’re exploring how new federal carbon emissions rules will affect them and their customers.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday released its Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce greenhouse gases by nearly a third in the next 15 years.

A spokesman for the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities, which operates the Nearman Creek Power Station in Kansas City, Kansas, said it was unclear how the plan would play out.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

Yellow umbrellas dotted a field outside Farley Elementary School in Topeka on Tuesday, even though there was no rain.

About 50 people standing in a roped-off area held the umbrellas, which read “Don’t Block the Sun,” as they rallied before a Kansas Corporation Commission hearing at the school.

The solar energy fans were concerned about a proposed $152 million rate hike by Westar Energy that also would set apart customers who decide to install rooftop solar and make them pay a higher flat monthly fee.

Cromwell Solar

Westar Energy faces a challenge — or at least it’s anticipating a challenge — in the growing number of Kansas homes sporting solar panels on their roofs.

Like other utilities, Westar relies on a pricing structure that largely depends on customer usage. The company charges a small monthly fee for customers to access its grid. But for the most part, how much customers pay each month depends on the number of kilowatt-hours of electricity they use.

Grant Bannister came to testify before the Kansas Legislature this week, traveling to Topeka from Alexander, in Rush County, population 65.

Bannister said his family had a typical Kansas farm — mostly wheat, some cattle. But he was addressing the Senate Utilities Committee about an entirely different income source.

“I grew up in rural Kansas, a simple farm boy,” Bannister said. “Now I'm selling wind energy to Yahoo.”

Westar Energy

 

Rep. John Whitmer says he didn’t follow the ongoing debate on whether to repeal the state’s renewable energy standards before he arrived in the Legislature this month.

But as a new member of the House Energy and Environment Committee, Whitmer said he anticipates being immersed in the debate soon. 

“Oh, I’m sure we’ll hear about it,” he said with a laugh. “I’m sure it will come up.”