Kansas City Power & Light Leads EV Charging In America’s Heartland

If there were more EV charging stations, there would be more EVs, the argument goes. If there were more EVs, there would be more EV charging stations, runs the counter argument. And round and round we go. Let’s send some love out today to the folks at Kansas City Power & Light, who decided over a year ago to disrupt the ongoing debate and start building EV charging infrastructure in its service area.

KCP&L EV charging network

In 2015, KCP&L decided to pony up $20 million to install 1,000 EV charging stations in and around Kansas City. That program is now nearly complete and it has turned Kansas City into one of the fastest growing EV markets in America. “There’s a little movement afoot here in the middle of flyover country,” says Chuck Caisley, KCP&L’s vice president for marketing and public affairs. “We’re awfully excited about the prospect of this kind of transportation, and so we wanted to be catalytic to that.”

The EV charging stations are not just going in across from City Hall or at malls. They are being installed at workplaces, in apartment garages, at grocery stores, in city parking lots, and at area sports stadiums. The idea is to allow people to charge their cars as they do their cell phones, plugging in as they go about their daily lives. Charging has been free during the installation phase but is expected to transition to a pay-to-charge basis starting this summer.

For KCP&L, installing EV chargers is about more than clean transportation. It’s about re-imagining the energy grid of the future and not having to build more power plants. Caisley says KCP&L’s power grid was built to work on hot summer days when air conditioning usage is at a maximum. As a result, the system is underutilized 80% of the time. Customers have already paid for the electrical grid and the power plants. A dramatic increase in electricity use would drive down KCP&L’s per-unit cost and could mean lower power bills for its customers.

“When you turn on an additional TV in your home, that’s not enough to change that equation,” Caisley says. “But when you talk about a segment [the auto industry] that’s as much as 25 to 30% of the entire economy and electrifying it, you’re talking about a significant amount of increased electricity use, which means we’re now using that infrastructure that customers have paid for so much more efficiently.”

He adds that the electricity the company is selling is getting cleaner all the time. Fossil fuels generate a declining share of the area’s electricity. Nuclear and renewables account for nearly half of it. “We just happen to sit in the Saudi Arabia equivalent of wind,” he says.

The utility company has gotten a frosty reception to its program from local regulators in Kansas and Missouri. When it asked for permission to add a 2 or 3 cent monthly fee to customers’ bills to help pay for the installation and maintenance of the charging stations, Kansas regulators said no. Missouri has yet to decide on the request.

David Nickel, consumer counsel with the Kansas Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board, says: “KCP&L is certainly free to roll out whatever Clean Car Network program they want. The question becomes whether or not they impose the costs on a captive consumer. Our take on that is, simply not.” Yup, David, that’s right. Nobody in their right mind would want to pay 3 cents a month to improve air quality and lower health risks by encouraging the use of zero-emissions cars. Why is it no one ever is able to understand the economic benefit that accrues when people live longer, healthier lives?

A similarly pigheaded response from regulators played out in California years ago. In the end, the legislature stepped in and simply mandated utilities stop blathering over a few pennies and start providing low emissions solutions to the community. Surprisingly, utility companies in the Golden State have found that green energy is actually good for business. Whod’a thunk it, huh?

Source: Kansas Public Radio

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.