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Stories focused on energy & environment topics throughout the state of Kansas.

Preventing Contamination Is Next Step In Westar Power Plant Closures

Brian Grimmett
Murray Gill Energy Center in Wichita

Evergy, the company formed in the merger between Westar Energy and Great Plains Energy, has announced the official retirement dates of several older power plants.

Tecumseh Energy Center, near Topeka, and two units at Gordon Evans Energy Center in Colwich will shut down on Oct. 1. Those will be followed by the last two units at Murray Gill Energy Center outside of Wichita on Nov. 1.

“With our combined generation resources, it’s time to retire older, less-efficient fossil fuel plants,” Evergy executive John Bridson said.

But closing a power plant isn’t as simple as turning off the lights and locking the gate behind you.

When Westar closes the Tecumseh Energy Center, state officials will begin the process of making sure what’s left behind won’t contaminate the nearby Kansas River.

The nearly 100-year-old coal-fired power plant produces coal ash as a byproduct, which Westar puts in a landfill on the property.

Coal ash contains small amounts of heavy metals like mercury and arsenic, which can pollute nearby water sources if not properly contained.

“Whether it’s the Tecumseh facility that’s closing, or any of the other facilities, we have engineering oversight, we have regular inspections, we’ve got a pretty thorough regulatory program that oversees these facilities,” said Bill Bider, Kansas’ director of waste management.

While it’s possible some of the contaminants could leach into the groundwater, he said it’s also unlikely.

“We have no evidence of that happening at any of our Kansas facilities, but there is groundwater monitoring just in case,” he said.

Westar is working on submitting a final plan to the state. The company will have six months from the last waste deposit to close the landfill.

Estimates produced in 2016 indicate it would cost almost $700,000 to properly close the landfill and about $70,000 annually for maintenance and upkeep.

Brian Grimmett, based at KMUW in Wichita, is a reporter focusing on the environment and energy for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on Twitter @briangrimmett.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

Brian Grimmett is a two-time Regional Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist covering energy and environment stories across the state of Kansas.