Our history and future: Vicinity Energy in Kansas City


Today, the Kansas City Grand Avenue district steam and chilled water plant serves thermal energy to 8.5 million square feet of downtown Kansas City buildings for their heating and cooling needs.

In 1900, the Metropolitan Street Railway Company purchased the Kansas City Electric Light Company and began building the Missouri River Power Station. Completed in 1904 and dubbed “The Big Plant”, it was reported to be the largest electric generation station outside of New York City. The plant was built for $2.5 million, equivalent to $85 million today.

The combination of a streetcar and lighting company was a natural marriage for investors at the time, as streetcars operated during the daytime and the lighting was used for nighttime streetlights, which allowed the plant to generate revenue 24 hours a day.

At the same time, the Kansas City Heating Company was formed by the electric company stakeholders, which built steam plants in the downtown area to meet the needs of a growing central business district. By 1917, three central steam plants were heating downtown businesses. The plants were located at 6th and Baltimore, 1312 Baltimore, and 1311 Wyandotte.

As the uses for electricity grew and the streetcar gave way to automobiles, in 1927 Kansas City Power and Light Company (KCPL) bought the Missouri River Power Station from the financially strapped Street Railway Company. The plant was renamed the Grand Avenue Plant, and KCPL converted the plant from 25 cycle to 60 cycle power.

Thus, the Grand Avenue Plant became the primary electrical producer for downtown Kansas City. From 1928 to 1957, KCPL began consolidating steam production to the Grand Avenue Plant through the installation of high-pressure steam mains that connected the plant to McGee and Wyandotte Streets.

Today, 3 of the 4 boilers in service are combustion engineering ceiling hung, built-in-place style boilers that are designed to accept multiple fuel types. The large steel structure of the Grand Avenue Plant is designed to accommodate the weight of the 6-story tall boilers, which can produce 350,000 lbs./hr, and grow 6 to 7 inches when heated. The 4th boiler in service today is a packaged boiler that was installed in 1967, which has a capacity of 200,000 lbs./hr.

A growing history

In 1989, KCPL sold the steam production at Grand Avenue and the downtown steam distribution network to Trigen, whose primary focus was district energy. KCPL kept the steam turbine electric generators and bought steam from Trigen to produce electricity until 2001, when the turbines were retired. In 1998, Trigen completed a chilled water production facility at the Grand Avenue plant and distribution piping down McGee Street that would serve the City, County, and Federal buildings. The chilled water system began adding more customers on the east side of downtown KC such as the T-Mobile Center and Oak Tower.

chillers kansas city
Kansas City Grand Avenue Station chillers

In 2019, a 6,000 ft. chilled water lateral was completed down Wyandotte Street to serve the west side of downtown KC, with an anchor customer of the Lowes Hotel. This lateral has also begun serving the Convention Center, Flashcube apartments, Hotel Phillips, and 114 W. 11th Street downtown.

Today, additional buildings connected to the Vicinity system include: T-Mobile Center, 909 Walnut Apartments, Lowes Hotel, the Marriott Hotel, City Hall, the Kansas City Library, and the Lifted Spirits Distillery.

Fuel switching, efficiency, and decarbonization

District energy systems have shown great flexibility in fuel switching to help reduce both cost and carbon emissions. In 2017 to 2018, the Grand Avenue plant converted from coal to natural gas, which has collectively reduced greenhouse gas emissions in Kansas City by 33,000 tons, the equivalent of removing 7,100 cars from the road each year.

Today, the Grand Avenue plant uses a highly efficient process called combined heat and power (CHP), which uses both the heat and pressure of energy generation to achieve efficiencies from 70-80% as opposed to conventional generation. In comparison, conventional power generation from gas or steam turbines can only achieve around 30-40% efficiency.

The Grand Avenue Plant is uniquely positioned for the next fuel switch of electrification to achieve zero net carbon emissions. With access to the Missouri River to be utilized by an industrial steam generating heat pump complex, and proximity to transmission-level power for lower cost electricity, electrification will be achieved at a lower cost and greater reliability for Vicinity’s Kansas City customers.

Learn more about our electrification plan in our white paper.

Vicinity Energy White Paper - Revolutionizing Urban Sustainability

Luke Thibault

Luke Thibault works as an Owner's Construction Representative and Account Executive for Vicinity Energy and is based in Kansas City, Missouri. His expertise in the energy business allows him to write about topics related to district energy systems, energy efficiency, decarbonization, and more.