Stakes raised in coal debate

Legislators offer take-it-or-leave-it plan with smaller power plants

? The fight over a coal-fired power project in western Kansas on Thursday took on the tone of a high-stakes poker game.

Legislative leaders and Sunflower Electric Power Corp. gave Gov. Kathleen Sebelius a take-it-or-leave-it proposal, saying they would agree to a reduction in the size of the two plants, if she would approve the project.

Otherwise, Senate President Steve Morris and House Speaker Melvin Neufeld said, they would initiate a veto override of Sebelius’ rejection of two larger coal-burning plants.

Sebelius said she would study the deal before making a decision.

“It has a number of the elements of the two bills that I have already vetoed, but I’m going to take some time and, you know, analyze the newer features,” Sebelius said.

Sebelius has rejected two 700-megawatt units, citing concerns over the project’s annual emission of 11 million tons of carbon dioxide and its effect on climate change.

Under the deal offered Thursday, the project would be reduced to two 600-megawatt plants, and Hays-based Sunflower Electric would promise to accelerate development of renewable energy sources.

“When you’re talking about a 15 percent reduction in the carbon footprint, that’s a pretty good compromise,” said Morris, R-Hugoton.

But the deal would strip the power of the secretary of health and environment in acting on air-quality permits. Sebelius has been extremely critical of that proposal.

The Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club issued a statement that described the new offer as “clearly a political move, rather than a true effort at compromise.”

The group said the proposal gave lip service to renewable energy while offering “only a token reduction in the size of the generating units.”

Morris and Neufeld, R-Ingalls, however, said this was their last offer and told Sebelius they wanted to hear from her by Wednesday, the day the wrap-up legislative session starts. Sebelius said she’d get back with them by then.

If Sebelius rejected the deal, they said, they would try to override her veto of the bill authorizing the two 700-megawatt plants.

To override Sebelius’ veto would require two-thirds’ majorities – 84 votes in the 125-member House and 27 votes in the 40-member Senate. The last bill Sebelius vetoed concerning the plants received 83 votes in the House and 32 in the Senate.

The project is a partnership between Sunflower Electric and companies in Colorado and Texas. Approximately 85 percent of the energy generated will be used in Colorado and Texas.

In the past, Sebelius has offered to agree to a 600-megawatt unit, but Sunflower has said that is economically unfeasible.