Kansas CO2 emissions are at their lowest level in 40 years

A wind turbine rises over Kansas. (Photo by Brian Grimmett, Kansas News Service)

by Brian Grimmett, Kansas News Service

Wichita, Kansas — As global carbon dioxide emissions break records, Kansas is headed in the opposite direction — reducing emissions for 10 straight years.

Kansas’ decline is largely due to the rapid adoption of wind energy and a slow move away from coal powered electricity. That is to say: Kansas produces less carbon dioxide, or CO2, the powerful greenhouse gas that’s released into the atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels and is a major driver of climate change.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, Kansas emitted 58.2 million metric tons of CO2 in 2017. That’s good enough to make Kansas only the 31st largest emitter in the U.S.

While it’s below the national average, on a global scale: “Kansas, if it were its own country, would be one of the top 60 CO2 emitters,” said Joe Daniel, an energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

So, when Kansas sees a reduction in emissions like it has in the past decade, it matters, he said.

The decline began in 2007, when total CO2 emissions in Kansas peaked at nearly 80 million metric tons.

Where CO2 comes from

So how did the state reduce its annual CO2 emissions by as much as the entire country of Bolivia so quickly? Three graphics explain it all.

First, it’s helpful to know the source of Kansas’ CO2 emissions. In 2017, about half of total CO2 emissions came from burning fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, to create electricity. The rest was mostly from burning gasoline and diesel in our cars and trucks.

The recent reductions aren’t transportation-related, because, despite more efficient and cleaner burning engines, additional people and cars have offset the difference. In fact, total transportation emissions in Kansas have barely changed in the past 40 years.

That leaves electric power generation.

The decline of coal

From Energy Information Agency

As the graph shows, energy-related CO2 emissions began to plummet in the mid-2000s. Specifically, it’s emissions from coal-fired power plants.

While some of the reductions are likely due to plant upgrades and federal environmental regulations that forced coal plants to clean up what was coming out of their smoke stacks, it’s mostly because plants burned less coal.

From Energy Information Agency

Coal plants in Kansas only produced about 20,000 megawatt hours of electricity in 2018, compared to an average of about 35,000 megawatt hours during the 2000s.

Daniel said the decline is largely due to economics. With the fast growth of cheap wind-generated electricity in Kansas, it’s become less profitable to run coal plants.

“I don’t think a month has gone by where I haven’t read a study about the poor economics of either coal plants, or coal mines, or the companies that invest in those properties,” Daniel said.

The rise of wind

From Energy Information Agency

About 36 percent of all electricity produced in Kansas is from wind, the highest percentage of any U.S. state.

Twenty years ago, there was no such thing.

Part of the rapid growth of the industry is obvious: You wouldn’t put a wind turbine in a place with no wind, and there’s a lot of wind in Kansas.

Plus, federal and state tax incentives encouraged developers to jump into the market.

And it’s increasingly cheaper to build a wind farm.

Just this year, Kansas saw four new wind farms come online, adding enough capacity to power 190,000 homes for a year.

“Will we see four wind projects come online every year for the next five years? No,” said Kimberly Gencur-Svaty, director of public policy at the Kansas Power Alliance. “But I do think we’ll probably continue at a pace of where we’ve averaged the last 20 years, which is a project or two.”

How low can it go?

Ashok Gupta with the Natural Resources Defence Council said the move to renewable energy and subsequent decrease in CO2 emissions will be vital to reducing the impacts of climate change.

But, he wondered if it will be fast enough, especially in states that have a lot of wind.”

“We should be going by 2030 to pretty much carbon-free electricity,” he said.

While some states like Colorado have begun to adopt 100 percent renewable energy goals, Kansas has not. Even if Kansas were to get to 100 percent renewable energy, there’s still the nearly 20 metric tons of transportation emissions to worry about.

Achieving a clean electrical grid will also be key to reducing those emissions, Gupta said, even if it also means another, different shift in the way things are currently done.

“We have to start making sure that our transportation and our buildings are moving to all electric,” he said. “That’s the strategy for the next 10 years.”

Brian Grimmett reports on the environment, energy and natural resources for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @briangrimmett or email him at grimmett (at) kmuw (dot) org. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.
See more at https://www.kcur.org/post/heres-why-kansas-co2-emissions-are-their-lowest-level-40-years.

Natural holiday trees can be ‘treecycled’

When the holidays are over and it’s time to take down your natural holiday trees, wreaths and garlands, give them a second life by recycling them, according to the Mid America Regional Council.

Like yard waste materials, holiday trees and greenery are banned from landfills in Missouri and are discouraged from being deposited into Kansas landfills.

Area communities offer residents a number of ways to recycle them — not only keeping them out of landfills, but also creating a useful product that can be used for a variety of purposes, including trail surfaces, erosion control, landscaping and fish habitat in local lakes.

“All residents in the Kansas City metro area have many options for recycling their natural holiday trees and greenery,” said Matt Riggs, outreach coordinator for the MARC Solid Waste Management District. “Residents should contact their trash hauler first to see if they provide curbside pickup, since that is most convenient. If not, there are plenty of other pickup and drop-off options available.”

For more ways to reduce, reuse and recycle for the holidays, visit RecycleSpot.org or call 816-474-8326.

The Kansas City, Kansas, dropoff locations are clearly marked with a sign. The Wyandotte County tree recycling locations listed include:

• Kansas City, Kansas — Alvey Park, 4834 Metropolitan Ave., Kansas City, Kansas, 913-573-8327, north side of the south parking lot
• Kansas City, Kansas — City Park, 2601 Park Drive, Kansas City, Kansas, 913-573-8327, in the park, around the corner on the grass
• Kansas City, Kansas — Stony Point Park, 531 N. 86th St., Kansas City, Kansas, 913-573-8327, northeast corner of parking lot
• Kansas City, Kansas, and Bonner Springs — Wyandotte County Park, 600 N. 126th St., Bonner Springs, Kansas, 913-573-8327, ball field parking
• Kansas City, Kansas — Missouri Organic, 1260 Alma St., Kansas City, Kansas, 816-483-0908, fees apply
• Bonner Springs — North Park, 1200 S. 134th St., Bonner Springs, Kansas, 913-422-7010

Visit RecycleSpot.org, call 816-474-8326 or check the list at https://www.marc.org/News-Releases/12_2019/Treecycle%E2%80%9D-your-natural-holiday-tree-and-greenery.html for other locations throughout the metro area that will recycle trees and greenery. Most services are free.