Proposed coal plants spark broad response

? The public comment file on the proposed coal-fired plants in western Kansas contains statements from lawyers, government officials and lobbyists.

But it also includes handwritten letters and postcards from everyday Kansans.

Patrick Bauman, a fourth-grader from Pittsburg, wrote a letter saying emissions from the three 700-megawatt plants will worsen acid rain and global warming.

“I also agree that we need to cut down on the energy we use,” he said.

Hays-based Sunflower Electric Power Corp. has proposed building the coal-burning units adjacent to its current 360-megawatt plant in Holcomb. Two of the three plants will be used to sell power out of state.

Many have opposed the plan, saying the plants will be the largest new source of environmentally harmful gases, while many have supported it, saying it will help the economy and use cleaner-burning technology.

Permits for the project are pending at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, which conducted three public hearings and received more than 400 letters during a comment period that closed last week.

In the thick stack of letters, Deborah Altus, of Lawrence, compared the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels to riding on the Titanic.

“The difference between us and the captain of the Titanic, though, is that we know we are headed straight toward the iceberg.

“My question is this: Do you want to be remembered for revving the engines or turning the boat around?,” she wrote.

Many of the letters both for and against the project appear to be generated by special interest groups.

But many are written from a personal point of view.

William Clifford, an ophthalmologist from Garden City, supported the project, saying opponents should visit the current plant in Holcomb “to witness the cleanliness of the process and understand the technology used to clean the limited emissions.”

Clifford states that the additional power will improve the lives of millions of people “through the delivery of cost-efficient, environmentally friendly power.”

Ron Schreibvogel, of Holcomb, said Sunflower is a good neighbor and noted that if the federal government established tighter emission restrictions, he was sure Sunflower would abide by them.

But the government class at Andale High School in south-central Kansas voiced disapproval of the project. Teacher Casey Jones said the students studied both sides and each wrote a letter.

Twenty-seven students were opposed to the project while one gave it a thumbs-up. And folded neatly into one large envelope was a 4-foot-by-2-foot piece of paper signed by dozens of Kansas University students opposed to the project.

KDHE Secretary Roderick L. Bremby said “the large response shows that Kansans care deeply about issues affecting our state.”

Bremby said the agency has started to review the comments “and will address each issue presented.”

But Bremby has provided no timeline on when a decision will be reached.

“We want to be sure that we give each statement the thorough review it deserves and that all issues raised in them are investigated and addressed,” he said.