Power, Light, and Community

Kansas City needs volunteers, and with people like Lori Wright—and companies like Kansas City Power & Light—help is on the way

“There’s a level of social responsibility and accountability for us as the local utility to improve the communities we serve.” —Lori Wright

Ours is a time where the idea of corporate citizenship has been set by the wayside for the sake of that indomitable bottom line. But Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L), which has roots stretching all the way back to 1881 and a long-standing community relationship with its 800,000 customers, is one of those companies striving to pair its corporate status with a thorough sense of community responsibility. And, according to Lori Wright, vice president of business planning and controller for the nearly century-old corporation, this match of service provision and community partnership is what makes a good corporate citizen.

As a key member of KCP&L’s corporate strategy, Wright is also closely involved with the company’s community strategy—a strategy borne of the recognition that community involvement is beneficial for the community and the company itself. “In 2006, we launched a community strategy to align and leverage our financial support, our corporate and community leadership, and employee volunteerism, in order to improve the communities KCP&L serves,” Wright says.

Kansas City Power & Light
Facts & Figures

$1.6 billion
KCP&L’s 2011 annual revenue
Customers served
Square miles of service area
Counties served
Miles of transmission lines
Generating facilities operated by KCP&L
Megawatts of generation assets
Fuel costs provided by low-cost coal
Megawatts provided by KCP&L’s Spearville Wind Generation Facility
Year first power plant was built in Kansas City by the Kawsmouth Electric Light Company (KCP&L’s predecessor), founded that same year

Wright breaks down this strategy into three distinct threads, focusing on programs that benefit at-risk youth, economic and workforce development, and the environment. The latter, and perhaps the most obvious for a power company, is focused on energy efficiency, investments, conservation programs, and related environmentally conscious initiatives. For example, KCP&L’s 5,000-acre Spearville Wind Generation Facility generates 148 megawatts of wind energy and provides an educational benefit for these myriad energy initiatives.

Of the former youth- and workforce-oriented programs, Wright says, “[KCP&L] focuses on early education and at-risk youth programming to improve school readiness and continued educational success, and our economic initiatives are provided to retain and stimulate economic growth.”

But beyond simply facilitating its programs, KCP&L encourages all of its officers and executives to have board membership responsibilities for Kansas City’s diverse nonprofit and community organizations that support KCP&L’s own community initiatives. The company also encourages its employees to volunteer on company time, which also doubles as an easy, low-cost way to boost employee volunteerism. “Obviously, volunteerism makes business sense,” Wright says. “In one sense, a strong, growing, vibrant community improves our bottom line. There’s a level of social responsibility and accountability for us as the local utility to improve the communities we serve.”

Wright’s volunteerism has seen her serve with the Greater Kansas City Chapter of the American Red Cross for nearly the entire 12 years she has been with KCP&L. A board member for nearly 10 years, Wright concluded a two-year stead as treasurer for the organization in 2012. Wright also volunteers as a board member with Harvesters, a community network with an operating budget of $16 million that provides food for more than 65,000 people per week in 26 counties across northwest Missouri and northeast Kansas.

It is partly the responsibility of the officers at KCP&L to cultivate these board relationships, though Wright says it is also the company’s corporate-citizen status that opens doors for its officers to become involved in such diverse nonprofit programs in the area. “We support these organizations in many different ways,” she says. “I was the first KCP&L employee to serve on the board at Harvesters, and, since then, we’ve done a number of fund-raisers at KCP&L for Harvesters.”

Aside from the encouragement and incentives given by KCP&L for its officers to get involved, Wright is also inspired by a personal sense of responsibility to her community—an ethic without which this sort of volunteerism would not be possible. “You get to a point in your life where you really want to make a difference,” Wright says. “Especially in the two organizations I’m involved with, it’s really great to see how a difference is made in the lives of so many people.”

Wright cites Harvesters’ BackSnack program as an acute example of this visible difference. “This program provides food to elementary school children by sending them home with a backpack of food on Friday, so that they have food to eat over the weekend,” Wright says. “On Monday, they bring the backpacks back. Once you see the children’s faces when they receive their backpack, you’re hooked.”

Though KCP&L has always had a strong relationship with its users and surrounding community, the big push for the company’s officers to get more involved came about in 2006—an incidental piece of foresight that served to solidify KCP&L’s community-oriented values when the real need for assistance came after 2008. And, in 2012, KCP&L put up $1 million to help cover some of its customer’s electric bills. “We still have a really positive reputation with our customers, and we expect to see this grow,” Wright says.