June 1 deadline set for coal plants

Developers' comments come after plan gains approval in House

How they voted

Here is how local legislators on Tuesday voted on the bill that would allow two coal-fired plants in southwest Kansas. The House gave final approval of the bill, 77-45.

Voting against the bill were:State Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-LawrenceState Rep. Paul Davis, D-LawrenceState Rep. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin CityState. Rep. Ann Mah, D-TopekaState Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence

Voting for the bill were:State Rep. Anthony Brown, R-EudoraState Rep. Lee Tafanelli, R-Ozawkie

? Developers of the proposed coal-burning power plants in southwest Kansas said Tuesday that if the Legislature doesn’t approve the project by June 1, it may not go forward.

“In dealing with a lot of people in the project, we have said that we think June 1 is a time when we should take a deep breath, look at the project and see what viability it still has,” said Earl Watkins Jr., president and chief executive officer of Sunflower Electric Power Corp.

But Stephanie Cole, a spokeswoman for the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club, said Watkins was trying to rush the process, which was happening nationwide on proposed coal-burning plants.

“There are desperate attempts to build coal plants because of a looming federal carbon tax and increasing public awareness of the dangers of coal plants,” Cole said.

Watkins’ comments came after the House voted 77-45 for a bill allowing construction of the two 700-megawatt, $3.6 billion plants near Holcomb.

The measure failed to get the two-thirds support – 84 votes in the 125-member House – it would need to override a veto from Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

Last year, Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Roderick Bremby denied permits for the plants because of the project’s 11 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year and effect on global warming.

Sebelius and environmental groups across the nation supported Bremby, and now Sunflower Electric is trying to get the Legislature to overturn the decision.

Sebelius has offered to support construction of one plant, but Sunflower Electric and its partners have said both plants are necessary.

Approximately 85 percent of the project’s output would supply electric needs in Colorado.

Brian Moline, chairman of the Alliance for Sound Energy, a coalition supporting the plants, said if Kansas turns down the project, it will be built in Colorado, and Kansas will lose all the construction jobs and accompanying economic development.

Under the proposal, Colorado-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association would own one 700-megawatt unit, while Sunflower Electric, Tri-State and Texas-based Golden Spread Electric Cooperative would own the other 700-megawatt unit. Sunflower Electric would run the units near its existing facility near Holcomb.

Watkins noted that Tri-State has purchased property and waters rights near Holly, Colo., for possible development of coal-burning plants there.

He said if Kansas rejects the Holcomb expansion, “They (Tri-State) intend certainly to move ahead on their own if they’re unable to move here.”

And, he said, Sunflower Electric also has looked at the possibility of participating with Tri-State in plants in Colorado.

“They’re looking at alternatives, just as we’re looking at alternatives in case we can’t move forward at the Holcomb site,” he said.

But Cole, with the Sierra Club, said she doubted Colorado officials would approve coal-fired plants.

The bill approved by the House also includes a mandate that utilities generate 5 percent of their electricity by 2012 from renewable resources such as wind. A Senate-approved bill contains no such provision. Both measures are expected to be reviewed in a conference committee.

Views on the bill

Here are statements representing opposing sides on the bill that will allow the construction of two 700-megawatt coal-fired power plants near Holcomb. The measure was approved by the House, 77-45

For the bill

State Rep. Bill Otto, R-Leroy”I was raised with democratic values to stand up for the working people and to not export their jobs to India and China. To protect the poor and not raise their electric rates so high they cannot pay them. To care more about the people than care about the big gas companies who want to build more gas-powered electric plants to back up the wind power that will never do the job. To stand for the rule of law and not for the rule of bureaucrats, I still have my democratic values, so I vote yes on this energy bill.”

House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, joined by others:”(The legislation) will stabilize the regulatory uncertainty currently pervasive in our great state. Regulatory uncertainty has already cost Kansas millions in new development. Producers have chosen to establish their operations in more business friendly climates. Surrounding states understand this vulnerability and are actively pursuing those currently planning to build and produce in Kansas. The state is now in jeopardy of losing literally billions of dollars in future development unless a reasonable and consistent policy is established. This bill does just that. For this reason, we vote yes.”

Against the bill

State Rep. Annie Kuether, D-Topeka:”I represent a district that is interested in renewables, real net metering for solar and wind, and the original bill also banned merchant plants and had a carbon tax that made mitigation real.I am not ready to let Washington decide our energy policy. I’m here to continue the discussion and look forward to continuing the debate. I vote no.”

State Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, and joined by others:”For the past five years, KDHE has issued 1,883 permits for construction and 919 permits for operation for a variety of facilities that require regulatory oversight. Thirty-eight operating permits and 69 construction permits have been issued since the Holcomb denial. The reality is that the denial of the Holcomb application for a huge new coal project with significant health and environment impact on Kansas is the exception and not the rule. Holcomb is the only permit denial issued in the last five years by KDHE. The claim of regulatory uncertainty does not ring true.”

State Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence.” … In committee, I successfully offered an amendment to create the Kansas Energy Science and Technology Commission to review available medical and scientific data on the impact of smokestack emissions and examine the technological capability to reduce those emissions cost-effectively. The commission would further provide scientific – not political – recommendations to the governor and the Legislature on what mix of fuel sources, including conservation, is best for Kansas so we can develop a comprehensive long-term energy policy. Because the Committee of the Whole removed the Kansas Energy Science and Technology Commission from the bill, I vote no …”