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.

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.

WICHITA, Kansas — For the last two months, employees at Walnut Valley Packing in El Dorado have been working extra hours, even Saturdays, to cut, grind and package meat so it can keep up with a sudden spike in demand.

Dental offices across Kansas closed for more than a month to make sure they weren’t using up critical personal protective equipment needed at hospitals.

Now many are beginning to clean molars and bicuspids again.

Brian Grimmett of the Kansas News Service spoke with David Lawlor, a dentist, and Julie Martin, the president of the Kansas Dental Hygienists’ Association, to find out what you can expect when you go and how they’re trying to keep patients and employees safe.

WICHITA, Kansas — Contact tracing is a key component of stopping the spread of infectious or sexually transmitted diseases, and has been for years. It’s also the linchpin in Kansas counties’ plans to effectively reopen and isolate cases of the coronavirus.

“The volume has become quite a bit larger than anything we’ve really ever dealt with,” Johnson County epidemiologist Elizabeth Holzschuh said.

WICHITA, Kansas — The coronavirus shutdown killed oil prices. That could be a killer for local governments in large swaths of Kansas, places long addicted to the tax money that’s been lost as companies stop pumping crude from the ground.

In some parts of Kansas, counties depend on revenue tied to oil production to cover as much as a fourth of the local property taxes.

With no rebound in prices in a world suddenly awash in a glut of oil, those counties find themselves scrambling to raise taxes elsewhere, slash their budgets, or both.

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