Topeka A proposed two-year moratorium on new coal-burning power plants would increase electric rates and kill a plan to build three 700-megawatt plants in western Kansas, utility executives said Monday.
"If you pass this bill, you won't simply delay a $5 billion project that we've been talking about for years to bring to Kansas. You will, in fact, kill it," said Earl Watkins, chairman and chief executive of Sunflower Electric Power Corp.
But supporters of the temporary ban say it would protect Kansans' health by reducing climate-changing coal-fired emissions and help the economy by increasing development of renewable energy, such as wind.
"Air pollution from coal combustion kills people, dries the soil, destabilizes the biosphere and disrupts the economy," said Ray Dean, professor emeritus at Kansas University.
The two sides faced off over House Bill 2219, which would declare a two-year moratorium on construction of coal-burning plants. During that time, the Legislative Division of Post Audit would conduct a study on the health effects of emissions from coal-fired plants and the proposed use of groundwater by the plants.
The bill by Rep. Vaughn Flora, D-Topeka, comes as state officials are considering Sunflower Electric's plans to build plants next to its existing one in Holcomb.
Other utilities joined Sunflower Electric in opposing the moratorium.
Mark Schreiber, a spokesman for Westar Energy, the state's largest electric producer which provides power to Lawrence, said the proposed moratorium would disrupt Westar's ability to increase capacity.
Instead of planning for a coal-fired plant, the company would have to buy more expensive energy on the market, such as natural gas.
"These alternatives would come at higher costs," he said.
After the hearing, several committee members said the future looked doubtful for the moratorium legislation.
"It's not so good," Flora said of his bill's chances. "But I guess you never know."
Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, a member of the committee, said he doubted the panel would approve it. He declined to say how he would vote. The committee may work on the bill Friday.
Energy in Kansas
Opponents of the proposed plants urged the committee to focus on renewable energy sources, such as wind energy.
"With all the clean alternatives that Kansas has, it is time that they be used," said Tom Thompson of the Sierra Club. "It is time for Kansas to be part of the solution instead of the problem."
But leaders of Sunflower Electric said the proposed legislation would kill their project and hinder further development of wind energy.
Sunflower Electric's Watkins said that with the additional plants would come expanded transmission lines that could carry energy produced by wind power.
Without the proposed plants, that transmission capacity will not be available, he said.
Most of the energy produced at the combined 2,100-megawatt project would be used to provide electricity to Colorado consumers, while water to operate the plant would come from Kansas groundwater now used for agriculture.
That angered Tom Giessel, a farmer from Pawnee County, who said Kansas groundwater taken by the power plants would be used "to quench the thirst of electrical power for million-dollar 'second homes' and condos on the Front Range of Colorado."
But Watkins said the plant's water use would be minuscule compared with how much is drawn from the aquifer for agricultural purposes.