Controversial SW Kansas Coal Plant Approved

By: Stephanie Diffin Email
By: Stephanie Diffin Email

Thursday, December 16, 2010


An environmental battle that's been going on for years in Kansas hits a major breaking point today as one side clears a large hurdle. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is allowing a controversial coal plant to go forward with expansion.

The state has been striking down the expansion for years, but state environmental leaders say the company's latest proposal dramatically cuts down carbon dioxide emissions from initial plans. The company says it's proposing to use the cleanest way to produce energy from coal. But opponents say there's no such thing as clean coal.

"I think it's a tragic mistake for Kansas," said Dave Kirkbride of the Kansas Sierra Club.

But what some call a tragic mistake, others call a major step forward, as the coal plant near Holcomb in southwest Kansas may now see a huge expansion. The Health and Environment Department approved an air quality permit today, after years of controversy.

"My children and grandchildren don't need the pollutants. And nobody else's children or grandchildren need them either," said Kirkbride.

"We were really excited. We have been waiting for this for quite sometime so it's good news heading into the holiday," said Holcomb City Administrator Robin Pena.

Supporters have been waiting since 2007 for today's announcement that the Sunflower Electric Power Corporation can move forward with the expansion. After years of denial, the decision to approve the new application comes just weeks before new federal greenhouse gas regulations go into effect. Opponents of the project say the regulations rushed the decision.

"Definitely, there's no question about that," said Kirkbride.

"It's incredible to me that anyone could think a decision is rushed when it's been in the process for multiple years," said Sunflower Electric Power Corporation CEO Earl Watkins.

Watkins also says he's confident the current proposal would meet the new requirements.

"We've taken the time to review every comment submitted, and we've done the job thoroughly," said Kansas Secretary of Health and Environment John Mitchell.

A little over 20% of the energy the expansion would produce will stay in Kansas. The rest would go to customers in Texas, Colorado, and Oklahoma. The company says those out-of-state customers will bring millions of dollars to Kansas, as Sunflower Electric is a not-for-profit corporation. But opponents say the project will only bring money to coal companies.

"It's going to reduce electric rates over what they otherwise would have been, and that's our job," said Watkins.

"I think they're [Sunflower Electric] going to do very well. I think it's the citizens of Kansas that are going to be paying the price for this," said Kirkbride.

Another major source of controversy is the resignation of Kansas Health Secretary Rod Bremby last month. In the past, Bremby opposed the expansion. Governor Mark Parkinson's office says the Governor asked Bremby to lead the transition team but he declined. Today, the acting Health Secretary said Bremby's resignation was completely separate from today's announcement.


Kansas' top environmental regulator has approved an air quality permit for a new coal-fired power plant in the southwest part of the state.

Acting Health and Environment Secretary John Mitchell announced his decision Thursday. It allows Hays-based Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to move forward with its $2.8 billion project outside Holcomb.

The utility and its supporters had hoped a permit would be issued before the end of the year, so the plant wouldn't fall under federal regulations on greenhouse gases that take effect Jan. 2.

The project has bipartisan support among legislators, partly because they think it will help generate jobs. But environmentalists who strongly oppose the project have accused outgoing Gov. Mark Parkinson's administration of rushing a decision.


GPACE Issues Statement in Response to KDHE Coal-Fired Power Plant Decision:

The following statement was issued today by Scott Allegrucci, executive director, Great Plains Alliance for Clean Energy, in response to the announcement that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment has approved Sunflower Electric Power Corp.’s permit for a new, coal-burning power plant near Holcomb, Kan.:

“Today’s decision was a rush to judgment. KDHE clearly reviewed an exponential number of comments in a fraction of the time typically spent on similar processes in the past, and they did so under extraordinary political pressure.

“We expect that this decision will receive additional review on two fronts: From federal regulators responsible for ensuring that the permit review process was conducted properly and in a manner that protects human health and the environment; and from Kansas citizens who may turn to the courts to right this regulatory wrong.

“Kansans expect nothing less than excellence in the administration of state government and effective regulation of law. With this decision, the highest expectations and the best interests of Kansans were not well served.

“Already, more than 70% of our state’s energy is from imported coal, and most of the energy this proposed plant will generate won’t ever serve Kansans. We deeply regret that our state regulators have taken an action that benefits out-of-state special interests, and not the citizens of our state.

“Kansans, their children and grandchildren deserve the same stewardship of our natural resources as our forebears provided for us. We believe Kansas needs an energy policy that encourages employment and industrial advancement that relies on Kansas resources and the technology of the future, not the past.”

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