Brian Grimmett

Brian Grimmett comes to KMUW after taking a year break from journalism, but he’s excited to jump back in to the fray. Previously, Brian spent almost five years working at KUER 90.1 FM in Salt Lake City. He worked his way up, starting as an intern and sticking around long enough until they relented and gave him a full-time job. At KUER, Brian covered a wide range of topics, but mainly focused on covering the Utah state legislature.

Brian earned his bachelor’s degree in communications from Brigham Young University.

When not reporting, he enjoys spending time with his family and building/flying remote control planes and drones.

In a typical February, the small Wabaunsee school district just west of Topeka pays a natural gas utility bill of about $4,300. This year, its bill was more than $53,000.

It’s not because classrooms were cranking up the heat. Wabaunsee is just one of hundreds of school districts in Kansas hit by an unprecedented spike in wholesale natural gas prices during February’s record-setting winter storm. Now the state is stepping in with $20 million in loans to help. 

SALINA, Kansas — Ebony Murell and a few interns meticulously sort 99 kinds of silphium. It’s a wild relative to a sunflower. And the biologists at The Land Institute — an outfit devoted to finding out how science can make farming more planet-friendly — want to unravel the plant’s secrets for tolerating bugs and diseases.

“We don’t know what all of these traits mean in terms of plant defenses,” Murell said. “Any or all of them could matter.”

Scientists say that if we’re going to stop rising global temperatures, the world will need to greatly reduce the amount of carbon it’s emitting into the air.

Electricity production is one of the largest culprits and transitioning away from fossil fuels is seen as a key step in stopping climate change.

Under mounting pressure to ditch fossil fuels and amid shifting economics that make coal increasingly less competitive, the largest utility in Kansas pledges to close nearly all of its coal-burning plants in the next 20 years.

 MANHATTAN, Kansas — Ellen Welti has a Ph.D. in, essentially, grasshoppers.

And yet she was still mystified about why the number of grasshoppers in a long-protected and much-studied patch of Kansas prairie was dropping. Steadily. For 25 years.

After all, the grass that the springy bugs feast on had actually grown more robustly as it absorbed mounting levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

So why were the grasshoppers faring increasingly worse?

WICHITA, Kansas — Utility companies in Kansas will soon have a new accounting tool that could speed the closure of coal-fired power plants — and save customers money.

The financial tool is known as securitization. It’s not a new idea, but it is complex. The Kansas Legislature passed a bill approving the use of the tool after more than two years of discussion.

WICHITA, Kansas — Wind now cranks up more kilowatts than any other power source in the state.

OVERLAND PARK, Kansas — Nearly 70 years ago in a newly formed suburb of Kansas City, Kansas City Power & Light Co. built what it thought was a vision of the future — an all-electric home full of the latest technology.

“It was advertised as the lazy man’s paradise,” said Johnson County Museum curator Andrew Gustafson.

WICHITA, Kansas — Last February, the city of Cheney, Kansas – located just west of Wichita – paid about $2 per thousand cubic feet, or unit, of natural gas on the wholesale market.

But last week, during the height of the winter storm, it was paying more than $600 per unit.

“We didn’t have the option to just say, ‘We don’t want gas for our community,’” said Cheney City Administrator Danielle Young.  “We just had to take the price we were given to make sure our residents were staying warm.”

WICHITA, Kansas — Rolling electrical blackouts rippled across the Midwest Monday while the region shivered in an arctic blast and suddenly found itself short on electrical power.

KINSLEY, Kansas — In the late 1980s, drought left the wells that supply water to the city of Hays and Russell in western Kansas precariously low. The near-catastrophe sent city leaders on the hunt for more water.

“We were just trying to survive from one year to the next,” former Hays mayor and city councilman Eber Phelps said.

WICHITA — State regulators have expanded their investigation into what’s causing a recent string of earthquakes in eastern Wichita.

Regulators say the earthquakes are most likely naturally occurring, but want to make sure oil and gas operations aren’t contributing.

For starters, the COVID-19 vaccine doses intended for Ness County in west-central Kansas landed somewhere else.

“That was my first clue we had a problem,” said Carolyn Gabel, the county’s public health administrator.

Then someone from Dodge City called. Those vials bound for Ness City? They hadn’t been kept as cold as needed. They were no good anymore and needed replacing.

WICHITA, Kansas — The number of Kansans who have died from COVID-19 topped 2,000 on Friday after the state announced 131 new deaths.

How quickly the state passed that milestone — it took the state seven-plus months to lose its first 1,000 people to the coronavirus, and little more than a month to lose 1,000 more — shows how quickly the spread is accelerating.

“There’s just so many more people getting COVID right now that inevitably that’s going to lead to more death,” said Steve Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System.

WICHITA, Kansas — The first of potentially several COVID-19 vaccines could get emergency approval by the end of the week.

But that major milestone is just the beginning of the work for local and state health departments in Kansas that will have to get the pandemic-stalling shots to people — and decide who gets it first, when and how.

WICHITA — Coronavirus cases are at record levels. Just in time to pretty much ruin Thanksgiving.

In Kansas, those cases have hospitals worried about having enough space or staff. That’s prompted local, state and federal officials to urge people to just stay home.

We spoke with three Kansans about their decisions to cancel trips to see family — and the loss that represents.

WICHITA, Kansas — Charles Bell usually passes on voting. He’s a Democrat in a Republican state and said, “If I vote, it’s not going to count.”

But after seeing Kansans elect a Democratic governor in 2018, he thought maybe the state was changing. And so this year, for only the second time in his 63 years, he voted, hoping Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden or U.S. Senate candidate Barbara Bollier might be elected.

WICHITA, Kansas — The state’s largest utility wants to charge customers with solar panels about $25 a month, even if their homes pull almost no electricity off the grid.

If courts and regulators reject that idea, power-provider Evergy’s backup proposal would charge all customers — not just those harvesting power on their roofs — a minimum of $35 a month just for plugging into its system.

WICHITA, Kansas — The blow the coronavirus dealt to the Kansas economy left tens of thousands of people in the state struggling to pay their utility bills.

That puts them at risk of losing electricity or natural gas — and raises the prospect that better-off Kansans weathering price hikes to make up the difference.

GREAT BEND, Kansas — Emerging infectious diseases like the coronavirus don’t just threaten humans. They’re also a major concern for the livestock industry and the U.S. food supply, with billions, if not trillions, of dollars at stake.

WICHITA, Kansas —Katie Hansen’s recent trip from Columbus, Ohio, through Chicago O’Hare International Airport to Wichita felt pretty familiar.

Sure, several restaurants sat closed, but O’Hare looked busy and her flights were full.

“If people didn’t have masks on,” Hansen said, “there would be nothing different.”

The sense of bustling airports is a mere illusion, the result of a smaller number of air travelers grouped into a reduced number of flights.

Climate change is at the root of this year’s extreme weather events, from the wild swings between flooding and drought in Kansas to larger hurricanes and some of the worst wildfires the West has seen.

And the majority of Americans are starting to take notice, according to the latest survey from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

WICHITA, Kansas — A standard school bus can hold as many as 72 students, as long as you pack them in three to a bench. That just isn’t possible during a pandemic.

And according to Wichita Public Schools Transportation Director Lisa Riveros, following the 6-foot social distancing recommendation would “reduce it down to as many as 10, 11, 12 passengers.”

Count busing among the numerous challenges Kansas school districts are facing as they head back to school this week. Some can’t find enough drivers. Others aren’t in the position to add more buses or routes. That’s left districts looking to do everything they can to reduce the number of kids they have to transport.

When the coronavirus first became a big deal in Kansas back in March, elementary school music teacher Emily Boedeker’s life changed quickly.

One day she was singing and laughing with the more than 300 kids that pass through her classroom in Lawrence every day. The next day, school was canceled and she needed to figure out how to upload bits of instruction to YouTube.

Nearly six months later, it’s time for a new school year. The prospect of going back into a classroom when the coronavirus is still spreading has her thinking about worst-case scenarios.

WICHITA, Kansas — More than 26,000 people in Kansas have contracted COVID-19. Roughly 350 of them have died.

While that’s a low death rate, survivors talk of the brutality of the disease, and how full recovery can prove elusive even months after getting infected.

WICHITA, Kansas — Tornadoes aren’t forming at the same pace as usual this year, creating one of Kansas’ quietest storm seasons in recent memory.

Brian Grimmett / Kansas News Service

Hair has been quite the topic during the coronavirus. For the first episode of My Fellow Kansans: People and the Pandemic, we spoke with a salon owner.

Montella Wimbley has owned a combination salon and barber shop in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Wichita for 34 years.

When Kansas shut business down, she had to put down her trimmers and pick up the phone — over and over again, taking weeks to get through to someone at the state’s beleaguered unemployment agency.

WICHITA, Kansas — Students, teachers and staff members at K-12 schools in Kansas will wear masks, use hand sanitizer once an hour, socially distance and have their temperatures taken daily. That’s according to a new statewide mandate from Gov. Laura Kelly, who says she does not need approval to institute the COVID-19 safety regulations.

WICHITA, Kansas — Fearing what the coronavirus might do to the power industry, six electric cooperatives in Kansas applied and received up to $20 million total in loans as part of the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

“It looked pretty bleak,” said Doug Jackson, the general manager of Rolling Hills Electric Coop based in Beloit. It received $1.19 million to help sustain 42 full-time employees.

WICHITA, Kansas — A month ago, the University of Kansas Hospital had as few as nine of its beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. Now, it’s about twice that.

When the coronavirus-driven statewide shutdown began to go away in mid-May, clinicians in Kansas were confirming about 100 new infections a day. Now, that number has tripled.

WICHITA, Kansas — At the beginning of the year, independent consulting firm London Economics released a study of Kansas electric rates — how they’re developed, why they’re more expensive than neighboring states and some suggestions on how to change that.

Legislators seemed poised to act on some of the recommendations until the coronavirus struck and shortened their session by several weeks. Some consumer and environmental advocates say the abrupt stop cut the time and energy given to critical policy aimed at reducing your utility bills.

Pages