Archive for Saturday, March 1, 2008

Westar volunteers to cut CO2 emissions

March 1, 2008


Here in Lawrence

Westar has plans to spend $750 million making upgrades to its generating plants in Kansas, starting with the Jeffrey Energy Center and, after that, others in the system. Among them: the Lawrence Energy Center north of the Kansas Turnpike.

The work in Lawrence, expected in 2009 and 2010, would entail installing equipment to reduce specific emissions other than CO2, officials said. The upgrades would be designed to reduce releases of particulates and nitrous oxide, a precursor to smog.

"Our customers are pretty clear on wanting to be good environmental stewards," said Bill Eastman, director of environmental services for Topeka-based Westar.

— Kansas' largest electric company volunteered Friday to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions, signing the first such agreement between a utility and the state.

The agreement between Westar Energy Inc. and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment doesn't set specific emissions targets. But the utility committed itself to measuring greenhouse gases and looking for ways to lower them.

Westar expects to finish the first round of measuring CO2 emissions by October and to present a plan to the state for reducing them by April 2009, said Bill Eastman, who oversees its environmental programs. That plan could include capturing and storing CO2, he said.

The agreement is significant because the state never has regulated carbon dioxide emissions, which many scientists link to global warming. Legislators have rejected proposals this year to impose the state's first CO2 limits.

Westar and the state struck their deal as legislators were trying to finish work on a bill allowing another utility to build two new coal-fired power plants in southwest Kansas, without any emission limits.

KDHE Secretary Rod Bremby blocked the southwest Kansas project in October over concerns about the plants' potential CO2 emissions. He also promised to seek agreements like the one signed by Westar, arguing that the state can't ignore the dangers of global warming.

"This agreement is a prime example of government and private industry working together to find common ground," Bremby said in a statement.

Westar already planned to spend more than $750 million over five years to upgrade its power plants to control pollution that the state regulates, such as sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide. Westar, with about 675,000 customers in eastern and central Kansas, has eight coal-fired units that generate about 79 percent of its electricity.

In disclosing the agreement, Bremby also announced he approved a construction permit for Westar's planned upgrades to three coal-fired plants making up the Jeffrey Energy Center, about 30 miles northwest of Topeka. Jeffrey is the state's largest coal-burning generating complex.

Westar announced last week that it would put off building any new coal-fired power plants as long as possible, citing "growing opposition" to coal as a major reason. The utility said the link between greenhouse gases and global warming had become a "mainstream belief" requiring "fundamental change" in energy production.

"We do customer surveys every year," said Kelly Harrison, a Westar vice president. "Reliability is very important. Taking care of the environment is also very important to customers."

Westar agreed to join The Climate Registry, a Boston nonprofit group developing a common method for tracking and reporting on greenhouse gas emissions. Thirty-nine American states, including Kansas, seven Canadian provinces and two Mexican states are members.

The utility agreed to reduce its net emissions of greenhouse gases under a plan to be approved by KDHE. If a step requires the utility to spend less than $1 million, it won't seek a reimbursement of its costs through electric rates. If it spends more, it will have its rates reviewed by state utility regulators.

The five-page document was signed by Bremby and Doug Sterbenz, Westar's executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Stephanie Cole, a spokeswoman for the Sierra Club, said Westar also appears to be preparing itself for potential federal CO2 regulations. Environmentalists have argued that Congress is likely to enact a program soon.

"It looks good," Cole said of the Westar agreement. "We applaud their efforts all the way. Experts tell us federal carbon regulations are coming and Westar recognizes that and it's good planning on their part."

State legislators so far have resisted imposing CO2 limits on utilities, arguing that it would encourage businesses to leave Kansas. They've also criticized Bremby for his decision to deny an air-quality permit for the southwest Kansas project.

Hays-based Sunflower Electric Power Corp. proposes to build the two coal-fired plants outside Holcomb, in Finney County. The $3.6 billion project has bipartisan support among legislators.

They've said Bremby's decision raises questions about whether he'll renew operating permits for 16 existing coal-fired power plants, including the three at Jeffrey. All of them expire by September.

But Bremby has said he's not planning to impose mandates on utilities or other industries and will rely on agreements such as the one with Westar.

"The initial information we have on this agreement indicates it is a good step in the right direction," said Sebelius spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran. "It highlights how government and the private sector can successfully collaborate."

Many legislators argue that the state needs new coal-fired plants to meet its future power needs. According to federal statistics, about 75 percent of the state's electricity comes from such plants.

Sen. Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican helping to draft the final version of an energy bill, noted legislators expect to propose having a new commission study potential state-industry agreements on CO2. That proposal would be included with provisions giving Sunflower the go-ahead for its project.

As for Westar's agreement influencing those discussions, he said, "I don't think it will have any impact."


Richard Heckler 9 years, 11 months ago

In additon to what hipper than hip has pointed out which is right on the money the best way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is to stop producing such.

Instead of paying to haul coal from Wyoming why not consider building a Bio-Mass energy producer? That would create a need for switch grass production thus a new cash crop for local farmers. Westar let's go local and get rid of that aging coal plant.

hipper_than_hip 9 years, 11 months ago

Using current technology, customers will have to pay somewhere between 65%-100% more for electricity for plants that achieve 90% carbon capture, and I don't think people are ready for that.

If we can reduce our electricity demand, then the demand for new power plant construction will be reduced as well.

The choice is ours: conserve or pay twice as much.

ralphralph 9 years, 11 months ago

The best way to reduce co2 emissions is to go nuclear. It's safe, clean, and the best choice.

camper 9 years, 11 months ago

I am in favor of reducing c02 emissions. The suggestions listed in the above comments are correct. However, I am becoming increasingly interested in "carbon capture" technologies. If we want to reduce pollution, I don't think we should rule this out.

I have also heard that they are developing safer and more benign nuclear technologies. These should also be explored (in addition to solar, hydro, wind, and geo-thermal).

Richard Heckler 9 years, 11 months ago

Why some keep pushing for high dollar generators of energy is neither frugal nor responsible. Coal and nukes are very expensive sources.

More nuke power is out of the question from where I stand. Wall Street came out against Nuke Power in the 1980's as a bad investment which sufficiently squashed future construction. When ratepayers were advised of the overall cost of nuke electricity in Tulsa,Oklahoma they came out quite vocally against it, also in the 1980's. Black Fox "the bad fox" was not built.

Nuclear Power Is Not Clean or Green!

No contemporary energy source is as environmentally irresponsible, imposes such a high liability on taxpayers, or is as dangerous as nuclear power. Industry efforts to "greenwash" nuclear energy make a mockery of clean energy goals. Although nuclear reactors do not emit carbon dioxide, promoting nuclear risks to reduce greenhouse emissions is the classic jump from the frying pan into the fire!

The Real Dirt on "Clean" Nuclear Energy

Richard Heckler 9 years, 11 months ago

The more energy companies spend the more rate payers spend at the meters while the real cost is hidden with tax subsidies. Corporate america plays ratepayers for suckers and some think that is just wonderful.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008 DOE DROPPING FUTUREGEN?

This is huge news. In essence, the Department of Energy (DOE) is announcing that "clean" coal costs too much. Politicians trying to straddle the divide between New Energy producers and fossil fuels energy producers have been promising that carbon-capture-and-sequestration (CCS), or "clean" coal, is the way to burn Old Energy without generating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. They have been preaching that New Energy is "admirable" but not cost competitive. Now DOE all but comes right out and says that if the country is going to keep burning coal, it is going to have to face higher costs or it is going to have to live with GHG emissions.

Maybe it is time for the country to quit listening to politicians preaching about "clean" coal. Maybe it is time to get on with building New Energy infrastructure. Even if this DOE plant, dubbed FutureGen, were to capture all the emissions generated from burning coal and prototypes have rarely capture even half coal would still not be clean. There would still be the environmental devastation of coal mining. And transporting coal from the mine to that plant would generate enormous emissions.

This FutureGen project is far from over. It is a public-private undertaking by DOE and the FutureGen Alliance (9 private energy companies). When the project was launched, DOE's share was $800 million. By last year, that had climbed to $1.3 billion. DOE is probably threatening to pull out only as a tactic in a renegotiation of who will cover the burgeoning cost. (See "CLEAN" COAL COSTS)

Alliance members could pick up the balance. It appears that is what DOE wants. But some of the companies in the Alliance spend good money to get the best Congress they can buy, so they are not reaching for their wallets yet. Fredrick Palmer, vp, FutureGen Alliance member Peabody Energy: "It is way too soon to say this project is dead, because Congress has yet to be heard from:"

toefungus 9 years, 11 months ago

Westar is a suck up. Watch your rates next.

Liberty 9 years, 11 months ago

Persue permanent magnet motor power generation.

Bill Griffith 9 years, 11 months ago

It will be interesting to see if KCPL follows suit and signs an agreement with KDHE. I doubt if Westar will use any carbon capture and storage anytime soon, but heavy investments in ee after the KCC okays a decent return on investment sometime this year will be the first step. Why? Because it is the cheapest initial investment cost that Westar has in its menu of options. Also, since they have been a foot dragger in this area, they have so much room to grow.

Bill Griffith 9 years, 11 months ago

According to testimony in Nevada, the proposed Ely coal-fired power plant proposal of about 1500 MW is now projected to cost 5 billion dollars-up from the mid-3's a couple of years ago. It looks more and more like it will not be built according to sources in Nevada. It is easy to see why Westar is shying away from new coal, given the costs, the intense public pressure it would be put under, and coming carbon regulation.

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