The Garden City Telegram
6/15/2014
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Power lift — Energy center part of plan to ease load on consumers

Garden City recently marked a new development on the energy front.

Last week brought a ceremony to spotlight completion of the new Jameson Energy Center on South Jennie Barker Road, a project pursued by the city as part of its quest for more affordable electricity.

After launching a search in 2012 due to news of a pending 6 percent rate increase from Wheatland Electric, the city in 2013 turned to the Kansas Municipal Energy Agency (KMEA).

Formed more than 30 years ago, KMEA is a member-owned, member-driven utility, with more than 70 participating communities in the Sunflower State.

KMEA started providing electricity for Garden City on Jan. 1. Part of the KMEA power-supply portfolio included installation of three gas-powered turbines for the new energy center.

The turbines will provide about 27 megawatts of the city's 65 megawatt annual power load.

The rest of the city's power will be provided by KMEA through contracts. Garden City will buy excess power generated by other KMEA member cities in addition to the power it generates using the three turbines.

The new system only would be used during peak times, unless cheaper power is available on the market. Garden City will be in position to buy less expensive power, rather than using the generators, as a way to the greatest cost efficiency — a welcome situation for all local consumers of electricity.

Officials said the move to KMEA already has paid off in reining in higher electricity bills for local customers, while also making the city more attractive to business prospects and other growth.

Along with the promise of stabilized electricity rates, the new energy center also could become a welcome backup in times of emergency, such as the city being knocked off the power grid.

The decision to align with KMEA and end the power-supply contract with Wheatland — by all accounts a good partner — no doubt raised eyebrows. Such decisions don't come easily.

In the end, city officials made a deal they believed would ease the financial burden for the people they serve. So far, it looks to be delivering as much.