LAWRENCE – Sun, wheat and wind. Kansas is closely associated with these three natural resources, but it is wind in particular that will secure the energy future of the state’s flagship university. The University of Kansas has signed an agreement with Westar Energy to ensure that roughly 100 percent of its future electricity needs will be supplied by renewable wind energy.
Domestic wind energy production has surged, and wind energy can now power the needs of large customers such as KU. A 20-year agreement with Westar Energy will provide the KU Lawrence campus with 31 megawatts (MW) of energy from a 300MW wind farm to be constructed in Nemaha County. The Soldier Creek Wind Farm is expected to be online by the end of 2020.
Because of recent changes in regulations, renewable energy options continue to grow. In Kansas, the Direct Renewable Participation Service (DRPS) tariff, passed by the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC) in July 2018, enables large commercial and industrial customers to contract with Westar Energy for wind energy supply at a lower rate than the utility’s current offerings.
The DRPS tariff will lower the university’s fuel factor cost from 2.3 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) to 1.8 cents per kWh — a nearly 22 percent savings. With these savings locked in by a 20-year agreement, KU has one less decision to make when it comes to long-term planning and goal setting.
“Being able to avoid the volatility of fuel prices and lock in at a lower fuel price helps us save money now, meet campus sustainability goals and have electricity from wind for 20 years,” said Carl Lejuez, interim provost and executive vice chancellor.
Securing a low price for energy is itself a big win for KU, but it’s also a win for Kansans across the state. The new wind farm will provide high-paying rural jobs and reduce reliance on fossil fuels, thereby extending KU’s impact well beyond campus and continuing the university’s tradition of bettering the state and the world.
“The Soldier Creek Wind Energy Center will bring lasting benefits to Nemaha County, including 250 construction jobs, 15 permanent jobs and more than $50 million in land-rights payments through the first 30 years of the project,” said Brandon Sack, clean energy development manager at Westar Energy.
With more than 28,000 students, faculty and staff on the Lawrence campus on any given day, KU would rank as the 14th largest city in Kansas. The Lawrence campus uses 130 million kWh of electricity a year, enough energy to power about 12,500 homes. By supporting wind energy production in Kansas, KU will significantly offset its carbon footprint.
KU’s Lawrence campus is also working to reduce energy consumption through conservation and is developing a comprehensive energy plan focused on providing energy-efficient, responsible, cost-effective operations. Previous energy conservation efforts have saved the university $800,000 each year, and a new plan will provide goals and strategies for prioritizing and investing in energy conservation efforts.
“As a major research and educational institution, KU has a responsibility to our students, staff, state and greater society to use resources wisely and reduce our impact on the environment,” said Jeff Severin, KU’s director for campus planning and sustainability. “This purchase of renewable energy, along with the goals we are setting for energy conservation and efficiency, demonstrates our commitment to a more sustainable future. Even while moving to a renewable source of energy, we will continue to reduce our overall use by improving efficiency of campus facilities, encouraging conservation behaviors and guiding all departments toward shared goals for energy performance.”