Archive for Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Emissions limits could be costly

An overwhelming majority of comments sent to the state about the proposed coal-fired power plant in western Kansas are supportive of the project.
Sunflower Electric Power Corp. is seeking a permit to build an 895-megawatt plant near Holcomb in Finney County.

An overwhelming majority of comments sent to the state about the proposed coal-fired power plant in western Kansas are supportive of the project. Sunflower Electric Power Corp. is seeking a permit to build an 895-megawatt plant near Holcomb in Finney County.

June 6, 2007


Austin Soper, an auxiliary equipment operator for Westar Energy, walks past the main turbine at the Lawrence energy plant.  The coal powered plant supplies electricity to Lawrence.

Austin Soper, an auxiliary equipment operator for Westar Energy, walks past the main turbine at the Lawrence energy plant. The coal powered plant supplies electricity to Lawrence.

Supreme Court decision could have an impact here in Lawrence

The Supreme Court ruled the Environmental Protection Agency should reconsider its stance against regulating greenhouse gases. The Lawrence Energy Center is Kansas' third highest emitter of Carbon Dioxide. Enlarge video

The amount of carbon dioxide that is emitted into the atmosphere by the Lawrence Energy Center has raised environmental concerns.

Among those worried are Lawrence residents Ray Dean and his wife, Sarah, who filed a lawsuit last week against the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, which monitors air quality. The lawsuit, filed in Shawnee County District Court, contends KDHE is legally required to regulate and limit CO2 emissions.

"The country is beginning to realize that carbon dioxide has an effect on people's health and welfare," Ray Dean said.

While the KDHE has said it will try to get the lawsuit dismissed, Ray Dean hopes that a victory in court will mean carbon dioxide limits at power plants, as well as limits on how many more CO2-emitting plants can be built.

The KDHE is considering a proposal from the Sunflower Electric Corp. to build as many as three coal-fired plants in Finney County in western Kansas.

That, Ray Dean said, will add millions more tons of what he calls "carbon dioxide pollution" into the air.

Amount of emissions

In 2005, the most recent year on record, the Lawrence plant released 4.6 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

That's up nearly 75 percent from the amount it released 10 years earlier, in 1995.

It makes the Lawrence Energy Center the third-highest emitter of carbon dioxide among the 24 power plants in Kansas. The highest two are the Jeffrey Energy Center near St. Marys with 18.1 million tons, followed by a plant in La Cygne that emits 10.2 million tons. The lowest in Kansas is a plant in McPherson that emits 843 tons.

Officials with Westar, which owns the Lawrence Energy Center, say that CO2 is an inevitable consequence of burning fossil fuels to produce energy.

"Carbon dioxide is obviously a natural combustion product," said Bill Eastman, director of environmental services for Westar.

Meanwhile, environmental groups point to CO2 emissions as one of the greenhouse gases that many scientists think are a cause of potentially disastrous climate change.

"CO2 is a huge problem," said Ilan Levin, an attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project.

The EPA historically hasn't regulated carbon dioxide emissions from cars or power plants.

But power plant officials worry - and environmentalists celebrate - the possibility that could change after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in April that said greenhouse gases are an air pollutant for the purposes of the Clean Air Act.

The ruling, observers say, could be the catalyst for CO2 regulations for automobiles and coal-fired power plants.

For power plants, the regulations would mean expensive and as-of-yet undeveloped technology to reduce CO2 emission in fossil fuel-burning utility plants.

"As long as you burn carbon-based fuel, you're going to emit carbon dioxide, so your only alternative is to capture it and sequester it someplace," Eastman said.

He added that such technology is not yet on the market.

"We're still not quite sure how to do that," Eastman said. "There's just no cost-effective technology."

The same Supreme Court ruling is what helped prod the Deans into filing their lawsuit.

Paying the price

Ray Dean acknowledges that placing further regulations on utilities would almost certainly mean higher rates.

But he said it's a price that he and others should be willing to pay.

"There's a lot of scientific evidence and economic evidence that it's going to cost a huge amount of money to continue doing what we're doing," he said. "It's not a question of, 'Oh, it's just going to cost a lot of money to these companies to clean up their plants.' It's going to cost our society if we don't."

But even environmental groups seem unsure of how to pay for the cost of regulating CO2 emissions.

"The expectation is we will have federal carbon legislation," said Levin, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project.

And for the energy plants, it's not only a question of cost but also whether the technology is available.

"We feel that the regulations are way ahead of any promising technology that will work in our industry," Eastman said.

Making headway

While the Lawrence Energy Center emits CO2 at a higher rate than most fossil fuel-burning plants in Kansas, experts say it's not significantly higher than other plants.

"Most of these older fossil-fired coal plants emit at roughly the same CO2 emission rate," Levin said. "In other words, they're all equally inefficient."

The plant has reduced in the last 10 years its yearly output of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide - two regulated gases that cause smog and problems with the ozone layer.

If and when CO2 regulations are next up for power plants in the United States is anyone's guess.

If it's up to the Deans, their lawsuit would jump-start the process to limiting greenhouse gases.

"The Supreme Court thing gives us a lot more hope," he said, "that we're going to have a lot more legal standing in this position."


Jamesaust 11 years ago

"The lawsuit contends KDHE is legally required to regulate and limit CO2 emissions."

Really? It might have been nice rather than to have one more article on the subject of coal plants to have at least a paragraph explaining what exactly is the basis of the lawsuit - exactly what statute supposedly requires this regulatory, limiting action? (Hint: it will say right there in the filing - assuming the reporter has looked at the filing.)

preebo 11 years ago

According to another article in today's LJW, we (Kansans) are paying below the national average for our utilities. It would seem that if any state could afford to cover the cost of placing limits on CO2 emmissions, it would certainly be Kansas.

If the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA is legally required to regulate CO2, then it stands to reason that the State Division of Environment (state's counterpart) should follow suit. I mean that is Federalism at its most basic. Is it not?

Raider 11 years ago

I wonder if the Dean family is willing to pay the electric bills for the poor of the state when the rates rise to where they can't afford them.

I'm simply playing Devil's advocate on this one, but the KCC will allow Westar to pass the expense directly to the consumer much like they allowed Aquilla to do this past month. That will hurt the budgets of many less fortunate Kansans.

tolawdjk 11 years ago

Kansas pays below the national average because it has not gone through the massive deregulation and market based approaches of places like Texas, Illinois, and California. Illinois rates have gone up 25+% over the last year. Not because of any sequestration costs, not because of any loss of capacity...just plain old greed.

Where exactly would you sequester carbon from the power plants? How? At what cost? Will it work on/at Lawrence? What is the required reduction level? Do you allow for emissions trading programs? state? regional? national?

Kansas has never been a "leader" on the environmental front, and I wouldn't look for it to jump out ahead now.

BigDog 11 years ago

probably only a dollar a month hike or something in that area: electricity is already very cheap here, it should be more expensive as a means to curb consumption and improve air quality:

Are you kidding me? I think that is wishful thinking. To do major construction on each of the energy plants will most likely be millions possibly tens of millions each times 24 plants. And if it is going to be "new technology" it won't be cheap. So it will most likely have an impact on those the lower income of our state.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years ago

"exactly what statute supposedly requires this regulatory, limiting action?"

You're right, James, that it would be nice to have that in this article, but I believe the basis is the Supreme Court ruling that the EPA should be regulating CO2 as a pollutant, which they will likely try to extend to KDHE.

BTW, BigDog-- it's a matter of pay now, or pay later-- and with global warming, paying later will be many times more expensive.

Linda Endicott 11 years ago

Actually, tony88, I've had people in the heating/cooling field tell me that it is much more energy efficient to keep your AC on when you're not home.

See, if you turn it off, then the house heats up, and when you return and turn it back on, it will take three times as long to cool it off again, using more energy than if you'd just left it on to begin with.

You don't turn off your heat in the winter when you're not home, do you? Why should you with AC?

kmat 11 years ago

Regarding turning off the AC - you should raise the temp a few degrees when you leave in the morning and then turn it back down when you get home in the evening. It will use more electricity if you let your house get too warm, then the AC works overtime to get it back down again.

If everyone would just keep their thermostats a little lower in the winter and wear a sweater and a little higher in the summer, it would save a lot. People complain about it, but once you give your body a few days to adjust, it's no big deal.

Get an attic fan. Use your ceiling fans. Get some compact fluorescent bulbs, plant trees in your yard to shade your house. There are so many easy little things people can do, but so many aren't willing. I still haven't had to turn on my AC this year because we have a shaded lot, an attic fan and ceiling fans in almost every room. House has never gotten above 72 degrees. I won't have to use the AC until we get into the 90's.

It amazes me driving at night to see entire houses with most of the lights on. If you're not in a room, turn the light off.

Anyone that wants to complain about rates increasing so that the plants can reduce the CO2 emissions - would you rather get cancer from the polution and help the ice caps melt, thus flooding all coastal areas and causing crazy weather patterns around the rest of the globe, or shell out a few more dollars on your bill? Everything is about greed. It should be about doing what's right and not being selfish.

Shelby 11 years ago


"Turn off your air conditioner as often as you can. The AC will need to expend more energy to re-cool the house than it will to maintain a cool house, but only for a brief period of time. As with home heating, this added energy expenditure over a short period does not justify the constant use of the AC over a longer period ... If you're not home during the day, turn the AC off when you leave, keeping windows and doors closed and shuttered."

Jamesaust 11 years ago

"I believe the basis is the Supreme Court ruling that the EPA should be regulating CO2 as a pollutant, which they will likely try to extend to KDHE."


What federal statutes instruct federal agencies to do has nothing to do with the State of Kansas, its agencies and its statutes.

Jamesaust 11 years ago

Thanks Baille. I wonder if I go over to Topeka and dig up the petition whether the World Co. will reimburse my expenses.

preebo 11 years ago

What federal statutes instruct federal agencies to do has nothing to do with the State of Kansas, its agencies and its statutes.

...I normally agree with you, but on this issue you are off point. States are absolutely bound by federal regulations. Kansas Air Quality standards are required to be built upon the Clean Air Act. States, like Kansas, can chose to improve upon existing Air Quality Standards, but cannot circumvent air quality without risking violation of the Clean Air Act.

An interesting side note is that California is looking to receive a waiver from the EPA regarding the Clea Air Act in an effort to drastically improve their Air Quality Standards. The holding here is that states can receive waivers from the Clean Air Act to build upon the CAA, but not to avoid air quality measures.

Jamesaust 11 years ago

"States are absolutely bound by federal regulations."

Yes ... and no. (A) there's no federal regulation alleged here, and (B) the route would be via federal not state court.

What you are presenting is the basis for a lawsuit against the EPA (or less directly a lawsuit by the EPA against Kansas). That's not this suit - indeed, any such lawsuit MUST be filed in FEDERAL court not state court. In other words, we KNOW that the claim is a violation of state statutes BECAUSE it has been filed in state court. (btw- off the top of my head, I can think of only one federal statute - the civil rights act - that gives individuals to the right - "standing" - to sue statutory violators directly. If the plaintiffs were claiming that the EPA was letting Kansas get away with violation of some federal statute then remedy would be to sue the EPA - if the statute so allowed - and to do so in federal court.)

Based on the paltry explanation provided here, the plaintiffs claim that some mystery Kansas statute requires the KDHE to regulate and limit carbon dioxide in Kansas - not the EPA to regulate, which they would do directly not through the KDHE. (My complaint is: what's this mystery law or is this just a nuisance lawsuit that wishes the State would do something that the State has not and does not have to do?) Again, if it were a federal statute, the court would be federal, 5th and Quincy in Topeka, not two blocks south - and what's more the defendant would be the federal EPA not the state KDHE.

Of course, that doesn't mean that the Dean's haven't filed a completely flawed lawsuit under your theory....It just means it hasn't been dismissed yet (as it would be - 'you filed in the wrong court, you're suing the wrong people, doofus').

(Its called federalism - we have two separate sovereigns and two separate legal systems. Federal courts can hear state cases - under limited instances, under rules too complicated to explain here - but State courts do not hear federal cases.)

Miles Nease 11 years ago

I have always wondered how polluted the air was in Lawrence, now I know. As progressive as Lawrence claims to be, I could never understand how the city allowed the plant and others like it to be constructed in the first place. Smokestacks spewing pollutants are not an attractive image to present to someone interested in locating a business in your community.

etsi_truss 10 years, 10 months ago

Let Sunflower build the 2 new more efficient plants at Holcomb station and then shut down 2 of the old outdated co2 belching plants in eastern Kansas. That would really clear the air around Lawrence What a trade off that would also allow Sunflower to build the transmission lines and add more wind farms and provide electricity for Eastern Kansas that would be a win win for Lawrence. Oh wait that would screw with their economy can't do that

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