Member Q&A: Brandon Sack, Westar Energy
We spoke to Brandon Sack, who leads renewable development at Westar Energy, about his favourite projects and the future of US wind. Interested in taking part in a member Q&A? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
In the simplest terms, what does your company do?
We’re an investor owned utility. We serve Kansas homes, business and communities in a regulated retail market and we provide transmission and generation services to wholesale customers across Kansas and the Midwest.
Tell us about one of your favourite projects.
We’ve just launched a renewable tariff, which was really exciting to work on. A team of us started several years ago, trying to find new ways to get renewables to customers. PPAs were just starting, so we worked with our regulators to develop a tariff. The first one used an average of all the wind farms Westar had already contracted for and the price was a little higher than our other tariffs at the time. The regulatory body in Kansas approved the tariff but zero people signed up to it, so we went back to the drawing board. We came up with a new tariff that was approved last month – it’s called Renewables Direct, and it allows our customers to claim a portion of a wind farm. It fixes the price for the term of the entire agreement. Virtual PPAs are not risk averse, but this is not a VPPA; there’s no SPP market risk for our customers in signing up for the tariff and all of our customers benefit from the program.
In which markets do you see the best opportunities right now?
There’s opportunities in every market right now – as tax credits in the US start to expire I think people are really reaching out, getting deals done before the deadline. Once the deadline’s over, that will really open it up and people will start looking at new ways and opportunities outside wind and solar. Even beyond battery storage, there’ll be a new wave of innovation soon.
So will the end of the tax credit change how people are investing?
It depends on how quickly manufacturers adjust to the pricing difference. Right now, a lot of renewable investments are attainable for different investors but once the credits go away and different technologies can compete, a different technology may overtake it.
What do you think the biggest challenge is for the industry?
Getting all the projects in the pipeline built and being able to realise positive returns for all parties involved in the transaction.
Which trends do you think will affect the industry most in the near future?
Changes in transmission. I think congestion and getting wind to the right areas will be a transit a lot of people are going to have to figure out. More expensive projects may get ahead of others just because they’re on the right part of the grid.
What have been the most important lessons in your career?
Patience. It’s key, and it takes a long time to put some of these deals together, working together with all the different parties internally and externally. It takes a lot of patience, time and work – that’s been the biggest lesson.
Tell us about Westar Energy’s new merger.
We just merged with Kansas City Power and Light, in the Kansas City area. Our new company name is Evergy. It was an opportunity for both companies to realize economies of scale to save our customers money, and for companies to grow together in the future – now we’re an S&P 500 company, which will help us grow in many ways as well.
Interested in talking in more depth about the US wind market? Join us at our next New York networking drinks: