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Activists want Kansas City's new climate plan adopted without utility company changes

Four people hold up yellow signs with statements urging the city to divest from coal and pass the Climate Protection and Resiliency Plan
Savannah Hawley
KCUR 89.3
Members of the Sunrise Movement urged the council to pass the Climate Protection and Resiliency Plan with no changes.

The plan gives guidance to help the city reach carbon neutrality while taking into account environmental justice. Advocates want it passed without changes, but utility companies Spire and Evergy want their voices heard.

Kansas City aims to be carbon neutral by 2040, but to do that it needs to decommission Evergy’s Hawthorn coal power plant in Northeast Kansas City, the city’s Climate Protection Steering Committee told the Kansas City Council on Thursday.

The final draft of the Climate Protection and Resiliency Plan (CPRP), which has been in the works for the last two years, was introduced on Thursday and calls for expanding utility-owned renewable energy, advocating for performance-based regulation for Evergy and closing the coal plant by 2025.

“Going on the record to say that Hawthorn should be closed by 2025 and we need to transition away from coal plants, that will be vital,” said Billy Davies, conservation program coordinator for Missouri’s Sierra Club.

The committee urged the council to pass the CPRP with no changes. The plan provides guidance on reaching carbon neutrality for city operations by the end of the decade and reducing the city’s overall carbon footprint.

“The time for climate action is now,” Andrew Savastino, chief environmental officer for the city, said during the presentation. “The community expects action at this point. Delaying action diminishes our impact, and we can't afford the cost of not doing anything.”

Gina Penzig, a spokesperson for Evergy, said the company was working to make the Hawthorn plant more climate friendly without decommissioning it.

“Evergy supports the Climate Resiliency Plan in front of the City Council,” Penzig said. “Evergy has reduced its carbon emissions by about 50% versus 2005 levels. We continue to add renewable energy to our energy mix, including planned addition of utility-scale solar at Hawthorn Generation Station. We believe that any sustainability plan also has to take into account reliability and affordability.”

The CPRP was put in motion after a 2019 report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that projected catastrophic consequences for the planet if greenhouse gas emissions are not severely curtailed.

The next year the Kansas City Council directed that its Climate Resiliency Plan, which had not been updated since 2008, be updated with new greenhouse gas goals. Thecouncil’s declaration of a climate emergency in 2021 lent additional urgency to the process.

“Our committee has been focused on the impact to Kansas City, especially communities of color and those that have been most impacted by pollution and environmental injustice for decades,” said Robin Ganahl, chair of the steering committee and a member of Mothers Out Front. “We have been very focused on making sure that this plan improves the quality of life in those neighborhoods and lowers the cost of living, especially utility costs.”

Ganahl said it was important that the community’s voices be incorporated into the plan.

“People getting priced out of their neighborhoods and being forced to move farther away from jobs, amenities and public transit is linked to our ability to reduce emissions,” Ganahl said. “So one of the things that we've included in the plan is to call for even more green social housing to be built, especially in neighborhoods that are near transit and jobs and amenities so that more people can afford to remain and live in those neighborhoods.”

The CPRP addresses six main areas in its quest for equitability and carbon neutrality:

  • Reducing vehicle emissions by increasing bike and walking lanesand public transit
  • Transitioning to renewable energy
  • Expanding the city’s natural systems to include more trees and a sustainable water supply
  • Ensuring homes and buildings feature “climate-ready” new construction
  • Increasing production of and access to local, healthy food
  • Reducing waste and diverting it from landfills.

Stephen Mills, a Spire vice president, said the company didn’t “have a seat at the table” while the plan was drafted, and asked that its concerns be addressed.

“For the most part, we are supportive of the plan with a few changes or amendments,” Mills said. “Two areas that we're really focused on are the areas that either exclude or limit the use of natural gas. Those particular areas are promoting equitable building decarbonization, ensuring climate-ready, efficient construction, and it really talks about updating building codes with just clean electricity.”

But Davies said now that Kansas City is projected to reach temperatures as high as 125 degrees in the next 30 years, it’s important that the city adopt the plan.

“They’ve got to pass it without amendments,” he said. “There's still going to be pressure in the coming weeks from folks who have a fiduciary interest in the status quo. But here was a very robust comment period. It's important to not cave and pander to a special interest.”

1st District Councilmember Heather Hall said she wanted to hear more from Spire and Evergy. But Adin Alem, an organizer with Sunrise Movement KC, said they had heard enough from the utility companies.

“It's a bit ironic because they have been here the whole time,” Alem said. “They've also had a hand in a lot of the policies in KC, especially regarding utilities. All the climate plans have been basically disrupted by Spire and Evergy. To say where are they is a little bit ironic and disingenuous of what's actually happening in KC.”

The CPRP is open for public comment at City Hall Wednesday, Aug. 24, at 9 a.m. during the Transportation, Infrastructure and Operations committee meeting.

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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