Wind energy is not enough: Winter storms show renewables alone can’t power Kansas

Charlie Riedel/AP

Energy security, regionally competitive retail electric rates, and continuous, reliable electric service are foundational to the quality of our personal and business lives in Kansas and the Kansas City metropolitan area.

The extreme winter weather of this past week has once again taught us that all forms of energy have great value, and it is only through a diverse energy portfolio that we can obtain energy security, competitive electric rates, and continuous, reliable electric service.

Energy policy is often complex and nuanced — yet it can be stated with certainty that no single form of energy can provide the societal benefits that a diverse energy portfolio provides.

On Dec. 22, the 14-state region of the Southwest Power Pool — which includes Kansas and metropolitan Kansas City — experienced the highest winter electric demand in history. That day, demand in our region exceeded the previous highest winter electric demand on record by 8%.

The peak winter electric demand increased from the highest recorded level of 43,661 megawatts on Feb. 15, 2021, to a level of 47,127 megawatts this month on Dec. 22 — an increase of 8%.

To meet that 47,127-megawatt demand, about 17,000 were provided by wind energy. About 28,000 were provided by coal and natural gas fired electric generation, and about 2,000 were provided by nuclear generation.

This Dec. 25,the weather became warmer, with an electric demand of 34,482 megawatts. However, wind availability decreased to 3,061 megawatts of the total demand, with coal and natural gas fired electric generation providing 27,585 and nuclear energy providing about 2,000.

To those who advocate that our region should generate electric energy only from renewables such as wind and solar, I would respond that it is both impossible and impractical to do so.

Based on the number of turbines currently operating, wind energy in the Southwest Power Pool could theoretically generate about 30,000 megawatts per day with its 15,000-some wind turbines. However, they realistically generate about 45% of their total capacity. This means that on an annual average basis, wind could supply about 13,500 megawatts per day. This is far below peak winter electric demand.

Wind energy is generally available only when the wind blows, and we currently have little ability to store it. On Dec. 24, only 2,700 megawatts of wind energy was available, but on Dec. 27, it was estimated at 27,469 megawatts.

Wind energy is of great value, clearly increasing our energy security and adding great monetary value to our region. The cost of natural gas-fired electricity generation is at least five to six times more expensive than wind energy.

During the extreme cold weather in our region over the last week and a half, wind energy has saved retail ratepayers tens of millions of dollars in electric generation fuel costs.

All forms of energy have great value, and if used in tandem, the overall value is greater than any single source of energy. The economic strength of our region is based on our diverse energy supply portfolio.

For energy security, price competitiveness, reliability and to reduce carbon emissions, we need to continue to aggressively build out our renewable energy infrastructure — particularly solar, as may be welcomed by local communities.

Energy storage projects will enhance and extend the benefits of renewable energy, and further reduce carbon emissions in the region.

We must maintain our coal, natural gas and nuclear generation facilities. Without these electric generation facilities at the ready when renewables are not available, our region lacks a diversified supply portfolio that provides us with security of supply, the best chance for competitive retail utility rates, continuous service and a path forward for the continued reduction of carbon emissions.

James P. Zakoura is legal counsel for the Kansas Industrial Consumers Group, Inc. and Kansans for Lower Electric Rates, Inc.