Topeka The state would impose its first limits on carbon dioxide emissions but allow two new, coal-fired power plants in southwest Kansas under bills legislators were introducing today.
The CO2 standards would apply to new electric generating plants and would make Kansas among a growing number of states attempting to address global warming, linked by many scientists to greenhouse gas emissions.
The bills also would allow Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to build the two coal-fired plants outside Holcomb. The utility's $3.6 billion project has been blocked by the state's top environmental regulator, but it enjoys bipartisan support among legislators.
"We understand that there are people who would love to cram the Holcomb plant down everybody else's throat, and there are people who would love make sure that Holcomb is never built," Senate Utilities Committee Chairman Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican and one of the bills' authors, said during a briefing for selected reporters. "If we're going to do what's best for the state, it's somewhere in between those two, obviously."
In October, Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Roderick Bremby rejected the two, 700-megawatt plants, citing concerns about carbon dioxide emissions and global warming. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius embraced his decision. The Lawrence City Commission officially opposed the plants' permits.
Since then, the plant developers, Sunflower Electric Power Corp. and their supporters, who include legislative leaders, have mounted a furious push to reverse the decision.
Supporters of the plants say the units will be among the cleanest coal-burning plants in the nation and provide an economic shot in the arm to Kansas.
Opponents decry the environmental and health effects from 11 million tons of annual CO2 emissions, while 85 percent of the energy produced will be transmitted to out-of-state customers,
Other states, including California, Florida, Hawaii and New Jersey, have taken steps to address global warming.
California has imposed its own auto emissions standards, which some other states have adopted. Western and northeastern states have launched regional programs to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, Florida's governor signed an executive order requiring utilities to use more renewable resources to generate electricity.
But the Kansas legislators said their bills propose what would be the first state laws to tackle emissions by utilities. Their CO2 standards would apply to new plants no matter what fuel they burned.
The initial standards for coal-fired plants would be set lower than emissions for any existing plant. The standard would be 20 percent lower after a plant's first year in operation and 30 percent lower after 10 years.
Utilities could offset their carbon emissions by investing in renewable resources, conservation programs or technology to capture and store CO2 emissions. A utility that didn't reduce CO2 emissions would start paying a $3-per-ton tax.
The bills also would set energy efficiency standards for new state and public school buildings and state vehicles; require utilities to allow customers to reduce their bills by using solar power; and set up a new commission to study issues surrounding electric generation.
The bills also would prevent the Kansas secretary of health and environment from imposing emissions standards tougher than those imposed by the federal government without legislative approval.