Energy and Natural Resources

Westar Plans to Retire Older Power Plants in 2018

10 August 2017

Westar Energy plans to retire 780 megawatts of fossil-fired generating capacity in 2018. One coal-fired unit will be retired with the remainder fueled by natural gas. All of the units are 50-60 years old.

The Topeka, Kan.-based company began retiring older, less efficient generating plants in 2015 with the retirement of 370 MW of coal and gas-fired steam units.

"With the combined Great Plains Energy and Westar fleets, we can accelerate additional fossil plant retirements," CEO Mark Ruelle told an earnings conference call on August 9.

The targeted units include Tecumseh Energy Center Unit 7, a 61 MW coal facility. The first units at Tecumseh were commissioned in 1925, and the remaining boiler is fired with low-sulfur coal.

Also included are Units 1 and 2 at the Gordon Evans Energy Center, which entered service in 1961. Also slated for retirement are Units 3 and 4 at the Murray Gill Energy Center. It entered service in 1952. Both Gordon Evans and Murray Gill are fueled by natural gas.

"These plants are about the same vintages as many of our baby boomers who are also retiring throughout the company," Ruelle told analysts. "So we can retire the plants without laying off folks."

The company operates a nuclear power plant and in July opened a 1.2 MW community solar project.

In February, Westar commissioned the 280 MW Western Plains wind farm near Dodge City. "The $400 million investment is a big addition to our clean energy portfolio which is now close to 1,700 MW," Ruelle said. "This addition is very low cost and provides renewable energy at roughly the same or slightly lower cost than the marginal cost of energy from our fossil plants. We couldn't have imagined such costs for renewables even just a few years ago."

The wind farm uses 2.3 MW Siemens turbines and achieved capacity factors last spring "north of 50 percent."

Ruelle says that Westar's renewable energy portfolio equals around a third of its retail sales. "Not bad for a company most still remember as primarily a Midwest coal company," he said.

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