This morning, the U.S Supreme Court issued an opinion on the case West Virginia v. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). The decision drastically limits the power of the EPA to interpret, dictate, and enforce policies that help protect our environment under the Clean Air Act of 1970.

With the majority of our city’s greenhouse gas emissions coming from the built environment and transportation, Metropolitan Energy Center (MEC) conducts crucial programs that help reduce emissions to make the Kansas City region safe, healthy, and energy efficient for all.

MEC remains dedicated to our mission: “creating resource efficiency, environmental health, and economic vitality in the Kansas City region and beyond.” To learn more about our work, please visit our website at metroenergy.org. We look forward to continued work with our community partners, stakeholders, and EPA Region 7.

Metropolitan Energy Center Kansas City Hub Building Efficiency

There’s a lot to like about electricity from hydropower.  It produces zero emissions.  It can respond quickly to sudden increases in demand.  A dam can also protect against floods, store water to fend off drought, slake the thirst of cities and irrigate cropland while generating clean energy. 

The Age Of Dams

Dams can even serve as sources of national inspiration.  In the depths of the Great Depression, building Boulder Dam (now Hoover Dam) didn’t just provide thousands of desperately needed jobs.  The project made news.  It was the biggest dam ever tried, built in a searing desert environment.  Vital engineering problems were solved with construction already underway.  And it was proof that even during tough times, Americans could undertake big, ambitious projects and succeed.  10,000 spectators turned out in 102-degree heat when FDR dedicated the dam in September 1935, a job completed under budget and two years ahead of schedule.

Hoover Dam – Arizona/Nevada

Hoover Dam marked the start of what some have called the Age of Dams.  From the 1930s through the early 1980s, America built thousands of large dams.  Some are truly huge (like Grand Coulee on the Columbia), some just garden-variety big.  These structures rerouted rivers, irrigated vast areas of land, and made desert cities like Phoenix, Los Angeles and Las Vegas possible.  There are now about 100,000 large dams nationwide, 5,500 of them 50 feet high or taller.  In 2019, America’s 2,400 hydropower dams generated 274 billion kilowatt-hours, a shade under 7% of all of our electricity.  So, given all the benefits dams can provide, why aren’t we using more of this clean energy source?

Location, Location Location

It’s complicated.  As implied above, only a small minority of dams provide power, and the biggest dams are federal projects.  For these dams, there’s a kind of legal division of labor between multi-purpose dams providing power, storage and irrigation, and flood-control dams.  Flood-control dams can generate power, but that’s not their main purpose.  Example – the vast Fort Peck Dam in Montana has a volume of 96 million cubic meters, and generates 185 megawatts of power.  Grand Coulee Dam has one-tenth the volume – 9.1 million cubic meters – but maximum electrical output of over 7,000 megawatts – 37 times more than Fort Peck.  Different rivers, different sites, different designs – and different reasons for being.  Fort Peck was designed for flood control, with some generation capacity.  Grand Coulee was all about power.  Could existing dams be retrofitted to generate more power?  Possibly, but at high cost, and at the expense of other missions they’re required by law to fulfill. 

In a sense, geography is in control.  There are only so many rivers that are big enough to dam.  On each of those rivers, there are only so many sites that make sense. Even then things don’t always work out.  A case in point – Optima Dam.  Sited on the North Canadian River in Oklahoma, Optima was completed in 1978, after 12 years of planning and construction.  Today Optima Lake is effectively empty.  The North Canadian was once fed by underground water from the Ogallala Aquifer.  But over time, farmers have pumped so much water from the Ogallala for irrigation that there’s now nothing left for the river or the reservoir.  Beyond extremes like this, nearly all the best locations were developed during the Age of Dams.  What sites remain are, for the most part, remote, expensive or potentially dangerous.

Approaching An Age Of Extremes

There’s also maintenance.  Dams look massive and unchangeable. But they’re subject to the ravages of time like we are (it just takes longer).  By 2020, more than 70% of all the dams in this country were more than 50 years old.  Really big hydropower dams like Hoover, Bonneville or Shasta are regularly inspected by federal authorities, but they’re the exception to the rule.  And even these kinds of massive structures are now being put to the test by more extreme weather events.  Oroville Dam in California faced disastrously sudden melting of a heavy snowpack in 2017. The result was an overloaded spillway, 200,000 residents evacuated and a repair bill north of $1 billion.  The May 2020 dam failure in Michigan and the collapse of Spencer Dam in Nebraska during 2019’s intense “bomb cyclone” are  examples of what can happen to older, smaller systems facing extreme stress without regular inspection.

Finally, dams have finite lives.  They may endure for centuries, but in the end, all reservoirs will fill with sediment.  In the Sierra Nevada, in hard rock terrain, a dam might endure millennia.  But in much of the American West, where soils erode easily and where flash floods roll car-sized boulders, it’s different.   Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado was completed in 1963. It created a reservoir that could hold 27 million acre-feet of water.  Today that reservoir – Lake Powell – can hold about 24.3 million acre-feet when full. That missing 10% – enough to cover 2.7 million acres with one foot of water – cannot be replaced, because there’s mud and sand where water used to be.  The original capacity of Lake Mead, behind Hoover, was 32 million acre-feet. Today it’s down to 25.8 million – a loss of almost 20%.  Ongoing drought, like the Colorado River basin is now experiencing, also limits electricity a dam can produce.  The deeper the water above the turbine, the greater the energy output – and vice-versa.  As reservoirs fall, so does potential power output.  In a region where entire states depend on these dams and lakes, and the power they produce, these physical limits are becoming visible.

While the big picture may look a bit bleak, boosting clean energy output using existing infrastructure may be possible – while stabilizing the grid at the same time.  At peak generation, California solar and wind power output is now so large that the state at times is forced to give away electricity.  What if that renewable energy could be used to pump water from the Colorado back up behind Hoover Dam to generate more power?  In effect, this would use the dam as a kind of battery, without the need for actual batteries.  It wouldn’t be cheap.  The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which supports the concept, estimates a cost of $3 billion, but these kinds of retrofits may be a path forward for enhanced hydropower generation and a more reliable electrical system. 

 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (November 8th, 2021) – The U.S. Department of Energy has selected Metropolitan Energy Center (MEC) for a $5.2 million award to lead electric vehicle (EV) and charging station projects under the Low Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Vehicle Technologies Research, Development, Demonstration and Deployment program.  Funded projects will reduce diesel fumes in the air we breathe by supporting EV purchases, charging station installations, and outreach efforts to notify communities of these resources.  The funds will also help small businesses and rural cities accelerate their transition to electric vehicles in Missouri and Kansas.

As part of the award program, eight businesses and municipalities in Kansas and Missouri have pledged more than 15% of their own project budgets in contributions to help smaller communities qualify for federal cost-share matching requirements.  These businesses and muncipalities operate within environmental justice areas, opportunity zones, and other underserved areas. In addition to sedans, they are replacing small and heavy trucks with electric models.  Diesel emissions from heavy vehicles and off-road machinery contribute to early deaths, asthma rates and family illness keeping people away from jobs and school.  Those are just some of the health and social impacts from diesel fumes that affect the community members MEC serves.

Additionally, thanks to this award and generous overmatch contributions from some funding recipients, MEC can offer a small grant program for underserved communities.  Small grant recipients will define for themselves what project features would be locally most beneficial, like projects to install public EV charging stations in parking lots and curbsides near multi-unit residential complexes and retail businesses.  The success of the program depends upon placing EV charging stations within underserved or rural areas that feel the effects of environmental justice issues.

Executive director Kelly Gilbert said, “MEC will use our access to reach and empower communities in underserved urban and rural areas.  We will provide funds that communities can use in the ways that they decide will best meet their local needs.  We’ve seen that publicly funded EV chargers are even less likely than privately funded chargers to land in underserved areas, and it is important to change that trend.”

The award is expected to be finalized and the project to begin in early 2022; small grants are expected to be available in 2023.  Organizations interested in learning more about the upcoming small grant program opportunities should contact Miriam Bouallegue at miriam@metroenergy.org.

There are plenty of popular ideas floating around about alternative energy, and about energy in general.  Many are flawed, conspiratorial or just plain wrong.  Should we call them “myths”?  After all, a myth, even though supernaturally themed or wildly imaginative, can still be valid, revealing truths about human nature.  The Odyssey or the tales of King Arthur come to mind.  On the other hand, trying to explain something about the physical world by means of imaginative story-telling is a risky proposition.  A case in point:

Anyway . . .

We do have a reliable system in place which does a really good job of explaining the physical world.  It’s called “science”.  Perhaps “meme” is the best name with which to tag these ideas in the age of cloud-based, cloudy online information.  So, without further ado, here’s the first in a series of takes on popular memes about energy, renewable and otherwise – and what the data say.

The Deadly Menace of Wind Turbines . . . and Cats and Buildings and Cars . . .

Wind turbines can and do kill birds and bats.  Fish and Wildlife Service estimates for the US range from 140,000 to around 500,000 birds killed per year.  Songbirds account for the most fatalities, with raptors second.  Digression – weirdly enough, it appears that the cause of death, at least for bats, isn’t being struck by blades.  Instead, scientists have discovered that barotrauma (like the bends for scuba divers) may be the specific mechanism.  Sudden, dramatic air pressure changes near blade edges are believed responsible for rupturing the lungs of bats found dead in wind farms with no other signs of injuries.  End of digression.

As in real estate, optimal wind turbine placement is all about location.  This is true for the site in general, and where you place individual wind turbines within a given facility.  The original Altamont Pass wind farm (famously featured in the 80s movie “Less Than Zero”) in California is a classic example of a bad location, and was lethal to birds.  At its peak, over 6,000 small turbines, some dating back to the 1970s, ran at high speeds birds had no chance of avoiding.  At peak turbine count, Altamont Pass was killing more than 10,000 birds every year, including more than 2,000 eagles, hawks and owls.  The good news is that after years of pressure and delays, removal of the oldest and deadliest turbines began in 2015.  A complete replacement of 569 remaining 100 kW units with just 23 modern turbines was planned for completion by 2022.  Problems are likely to persist after the repower.  Even running at slower speeds, new turbines are so tall that their blades operate at the flight height of nocturnal migratory birds.  But since upgrades and removals began at Altamont, overall bird deaths have dropped there by between 40 and 50%.

                Where do wind turbines rank as a threat to wild bird populations?  Short version – very close to the bottom.  In 2018, the US Fish and Wildlife Service published its estimates for bird deaths by cause, drawn from multiple scientific studies.  Here are their low-range numbers:

  • Oil Pits:  500,000
  • Electrocutions:  900,000
  • Collision with electrical lines:  8,000,000
  • Poison:  72,000,000 (median estimate)
  • Collision with vehicles:  89,000,000
  • Collision with building glass:  365,000,000
  • Cats:  1,400,000,000
  • Wind Turbines – 234,000 (mean estimate)

Bear in mind that this total – 1,838,400,000 bird deaths – is the sum of low-range estimates (with the exception of poison).  High-range totals for the same categories produce an estimate of 3,536,700,000 annual bird kills through various human activities (and, of course, the activities of our four-footed, long-tailed furry friends).  Even high-end estimated totals of bird deaths through wind turbines (327,586) amount to a total of .0092% of total mortality in the same high-end estimate.  As wind power expansions continue, raw numbers of bird deaths will likely rise as well, but at a very low overall percentage of total mortality.

Wind Turbines And Human Health

The dangers of wind turbines to birds and bats are established.  To some degree, they can be mitigated.  What about us?  For years, studies and anecdotal evidence have shown there are issues with noise from turbines.  As noted by the College of Family Physicians of Canada, turbine noise can disrupt sleep, particularly as wind speed varies.  The consensus :  these issues are real, and reduce quality of life, and the closer people live to large turbines, the worse these problems.

Others living near wind farms have reported problems including headaches, fatigue and depression.  These have been blamed on the flickering shadows produced by blades, or on infrasound – sounds too low for humans to perceive.    However, an exhaustive study by the Council of Canadian Academies, which covered peer-reviewed, unpublished, and “gray literature” found only “limited” causal links between wind turbines and sleep deprivation.  Evidence of connections to more serious issues – vertigo, heart disease, diabetes – was “insufficient”.  In addition, other reports noted the following:

People living near wind turbines who received rent from them were “less likely to report adverse health effects” than other living nearby:

In two studies, two groups of test subjects were exposed either to silence, or to infrasound, through headphones after watching videos.  Those who watched a video warning of the dangers of infrasound were more likely to report symptoms and more severe symptoms from infrasound, even if they were exposed to silence.  Those watching a video minimizing the same dangers were less likely to report any symptoms.

To the best of our knowledge to date, the dangers to birds from wind power are real, but limited.  The dangers to people seem minimal, though noise exposure can be harmful.  And the successful uptake of a new technology doesn’t just mean the act of adopting it, but doing so carefully, with ourselves and the rest of the world in mind.

Kansas City International Airport is no stranger to cleaner fuels.  It began deploying compressed natural gas (CNG) buses back in 1997providing natural gas on site with its own high-speed fueling station.  This made the Aviation Department something of a pioneer in alt-fuel adoption.  The next step, though, was a big jump in fuel efficiency, and in October of 2017, KCI became the first US airport to deploy all-electric shuttle buses.  It’s currently running 7 BYD K7 battery-electric shuttles along with older CNG units. 

There’s no getting around the fact that up-front costs for electric vehicles are going to be higher than for equivalent conventional buses.  In fact, when the airport rolled out data on the comparative costs of different fuels, the contrast was stark.  A brand-new diesel shuttle buses cost about $385,000; for CNG, add an additional 14% for a sticker price of $440,000.  All-electric models come in at a fairly eye-popping $540,000, more than 40% more expensive than the price for a baseline diesel.   

But as anybody who’s bought a car knows, the sticker price isn’t the only price.  The sticker price, in fact, is only the beginning of years of recurring costs.  Kenny Williams is the Fleet Asset Manager for the Aviation Department and one of the main proponents of the EV deployment back in 2016-17 as the project began to take shape.  He broke it down as follows: 

Costs Per Mile (Including fuel and maintenance) 
  • Diesel – variable/volatile fuel prices; approximate costs $1.50/mile 
  • CNG – more stable fuel prices; approximate costs $1.00/mile, $0.45-.50 w. alt-fuel tax credit 
  • Electric – fixed fuel prices; approximate costs $0.50/mile 

Maintenance costs add up quickly for the shuttle bus duty cycle.  Oil changes for CNG units are about $170 and have to happen every other month.  Annual tune-ups add an additional $3,800 to CNG bus operating costs.  So, even with fuel at an economical $0.50/gallon thanks to the clean fuel tax credit, CNG bus maintenance per year comes in between $4,800 and $5,000 per unit.  It’s not like EV buses float on air.  Like CNG units, they need new tires, and fluid changes every 18 months add annual costs of about $165 per year.  But no internal combustion engine means no tune-ups, avoiding the lion’s share of regular maintenance overhead. 

And yet, even with maintenance savings of around $50,000 per bus over ten years, there’s still a big price gap between diesel, CNG and electric buses.  That’s where federal clean-fuel funding comes in.  Thanks to support from the US Department of Energy, KCI was eligible for reimbursements of $72,000 per bus, dropping their costs to just $2,000 more than comparable CNG shuttles.   

The same grant, “Accelerating Alternative Fuel Adoption in Mid-America” provided funding for charging infrastructure, covering about $100,000 of $225,000 in construction and equipment costs for the new systems.  KCI’s electric bus charging lot has eight pedestals installed, with space for an additional four slots if more EV units are purchased  Charging time is about three hours, and this “fueling” process hasn’t had any negative impact on operations.   

Kenny Williams talks EV bus duty cycles at the airport’s charging lot.

What has the driver response been like?  Per Kenny Williams, “For most drivers, once they drive them, they really like them.”  The only minor hitch has been how drivers operate the bus HVAC systems – since they are battery-driven, power loss from cranking up AC or heating at full throttle can take a bite out of driving range when a gentler touch would work better. And KCI is planning on investing in additional EV units.  The economic toll of the pandemic has postponed acquisition of a few of the 12 units originally planned.  However, the Aviation Department is planning on ordering three more units in addition to the seven already in service.  These new buses will be slightly different.  They’ll have inductive charging systems, which will let them power up without cords or plugs, as they pick up passengers at the new terminal starting in early 2023.   

This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Vehicle Technologies Program under Award Number DE-EE0008262 . 

Metropolitan Energy Center (MEC) announces the first placements of all-electric zero-emission Class-8 yard trucks into service under a new grant project. The project, “Electrifying Terminal Trucks in Unincentivized Markets,” is the result of partnerships from Kansas City to Chicago, whose goal is to electrify terminal trucks in our regional market. The first placements of four planned have taken place at funding recipient Firefly Transportation Services. Based in Glenview, IL, Firefly provides zero-emission transportation options to freight yard, port and cargo sites, along with training and site preparation for all-electric operations.

The vehicles funded under this grant are manufactured by Orange EV. Based in Riverside, MO, Orange EV designs and manufacturers all-electric yard trucks right here in the heartland. They are also the first American company to commercially build, deploy and service 100% electric Class-8 electric vehicles. Before this year, Orange EV had yet to deploy one of their vehicles in the Kansas City area. Jason Dake, Vice President of Legal and Regulatory Affairs at Orange EV stated, “Not selling one of our trucks in our own backyard was a thorn in our side for a while,” he continued, “Seeing additional trucks deployed in the metro area through the project is a great feeling and most importantly, they are helping our community and improving the air quality for Kansas Citians.”

Additional funding recipients with all-electric truck placements planned in the near future are the Johnson County Wastewater Department in Leawood, KS and Hirschbach Motor Lines, a private long-haul carrier with emphasis on refrigerated and other specialized services. Hirschbach will deploy their truck at a client site in Wyandotte County, KS. Both Evergy and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, Kansas City, Kansas Board of Public Utilities will provide technical assistance, as needed, on electrical service and electric rate guidance.

Orange EV will also take possession of a demonstration truck to provide potential customers across the U.S. up to a 2- to 4-month trial period. During the period, they can use the tractor free of charge, viscerally demonstrating air quality, noise-reduction and cost-savings benefits in their unique work environments.

Yard trucks (also known as hostlers, terminal tractors, goats or mules) are designed to pull cargo containers and semi trailers in freight or intermodal yards, or at large manufacturing sites. The workload for these trucks is intense, pulling heavy loads almost continuously. The power required means that most yard trucks are diesel, which results in a great deal of diesel exhaust, one of the worst pollutants and a major source of poor air quality. Diesel exhaust is not only a health risk for workers on site, but it also threatens communities surrounding industrial zones, typically low-income neighborhoods. Even worse, low speed, high-power operations emit much more soot and other particulates than diesel operations at highway speeds. Systematically replacing diesel yard trucks with electric models could substantially boost air quality in and around America’s busiest freight hubs. At the same time, the cost savings both from eliminating diesel fuel and from operating a much more efficient electric powertrain is an attractive advantage.

However, the project is not only about improving air quality and saving money. Another key goal is to gather data on electric truck operations to validate broader deployments of battery-powered yard trucks. Telematics and data, supported by fleet interviews and operational evaluation, will be analyzed by another project partner and nearby neighbor, Missouri University of Science and Technology. Ultimately, MEC will create a deployment guide based on the real-world experiences of our project partners in Chicago and Kansas City so fleet operators across the country can make the move to cleaner, more efficient freight handling.

To learn more about this project or to request the demo truck for your work site, please contact Emily Wolfe.

This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) under the Award Number DE-EE0008887.

As we near the end of the year, it is anticipated that Congress will be discussing whether to extend certain federal tax credits such as the Alternative Fuel and Energy Efficiency Tax CreditsContact your representative to learn if they will support extending the Alternative Fuel Tax Credit and below energy efficiency tax incentives that also expire at the end of 2020. (Note that biodiesel credits are covered under the Biodiesel Income Tax Credit which continues through December 31, 2022. The Renewable Energy Tax Credits expire December 31, 2021.) 

  • Alternative Fuel Tax CreditA tax incentive is available for alternative fuel that is sold for use or used as a fuel to operate a motor vehicle. A tax credit of $0.50 per gallon is available for the following alternative fuels: natural gas, liquefied hydrogen, propane, P-Series fuel, liquid fuel derived from coal through the Fischer-Tropsch process, and compressed or liquefied gas derived from biomass. 
  • Commercial Building Energy-Efficiency Tax DeductionA tax deduction of up to $1.80 per square foot is available to owners of commercial buildings or systems that save at least 50% of the heating and cooling energy as compared to ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2007 (or 90.1-2001 for buildings or systems placed in service before January 1, 2018). The deduction is available for buildings or systems placed in service after December 31, 2017 through December 31, 2020. Partial deductions can also be taken for measures affecting the building envelope, lighting, or heating and cooling systems.
  • Residential Tax Credits for Energy Equipment & Energy Efficiency Improvements: Homeowners can claim a federal tax credit for installing appliances that are designed to boost energy efficiency or making certain improvements to their homes (10% of cost up to $500 or a specific amount from $50-$300).  
  • Tax Credits for Builders of Energy Efficient HomesHome builders are eligible for tax credits for a new energy efficient home that achieves energy savings for heating and cooling over the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and supplements. A required amount of energy savings must come from building envelope improvements. This credit also applies to contractors of manufactured homes conforming to Federal Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards and meeting the energy efficiency requirements. Alternatively, a manufactured home also qualifies for a $1,000 tax credit if it meets ENERGY STAR requirements. 

If you would like additional information regarding the above incentives visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE)email your Clean Cities coordinator, or contact MEC at (816) 531-7283.