Lawrence played a role in derailing power project

Lawrence is closer to St. Louis and Oklahoma City than it is to tiny Holcomb, Kan.

But that didn’t stop Lawrencians from leading the opposition to the proposed coal-fired electric plants nearly 320 miles west of Massachusetts Street.

From the outset, Hays-based Sunflower Electric Power Corp. faced an army of opposition from Lawrence residents.

That grated on the nerves of some in western Kansas who support the project as a way to bolster the regional economy.

When the Lawrence City Commission voted to oppose the project, Sunflower Electric spokesman Steve Miller said, “I personally will make it my crusade to make sure all our western Kansas dollars are diverted as far away from Lawrence as they can be because they have unfairly stuck their nose in western Kansas’ business.” Miller later apologized.

More than 370 people attended last year’s public hearing in Lawrence on the project – so many folks that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment was forced to conduct an additional hearing day.

That attendance was more than the number of folks who showed up at earlier public hearings in Garden City (95) and Topeka (120). Many of those at the Topeka meeting drove in from Lawrence.

In Lawrence, the main opposition to the plants has been based on environmental and health factors. The plants were projected to pump approximately 11 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year.

Scientists believe carbon dioxide traps heat, causing global warming.

Lawrence residents Sarah and Ray Dean filed a lawsuit seeking to derail the project by forcing KDHE to establish regulations on carbon dioxide.

Their attorney, Bob Eye, also of Lawrence, said that while Lawrence has a reputation for being at the forefront of the environment, the rest of the country and state are catching up.

“The tipping point has occurred at least in terms of the public’s perception of the problem” about global warming, Eye said.

Climate change has become “legitimized,” Eye said, because of media coverage, and the recent award of the Nobel Peace Prize to former Vice President Al Gore for his work fighting global warming.

“The Nobel committee is not going to hand the prize to someone who is a lunatic-fringe quack,” Eye said.

He said he understood why some in western Kansas would be angry at folks in eastern Kansas for opposing the plants. But he said full-scale development of wind energy would be better for the western Kansas economy.