It is, indeed, good news that Westar Energy has agreed to voluntarily reduce emissions of carbon dioxide from its generating plants in Kansas.
The agreement, announced last week, between the electrical utility and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment doesn't set specific limits on CO2, but it commits Westar to measure the emissions and present a plan by April 2009 to reduce them.
Carbon dioxide emissions have been much in the news in recent months, since KDHE Secretary Rod Bremby relied on environmental concerns to deny permits for two new coal-fired power plants in southwest Kansas. Legislators said Friday that the Westar agreement is unlikely to affect discussions on legislation clearing the way for those plants, but it might have an impact if legislators eventually are forced by a governor's veto to seek a compromise plan.
Although it's doing the right thing, Westar had significant motivation beyond pure altruism to look at reduced emissions. For one thing, permits to operate three coal-fired plants at the Jeffrey Energy Center northwest of Topeka expired Jan. 27 and permits for 13 other Westar coal-fired plants will expire by the end of September. The renewal of those permits will be decided by Bremby's office, which probably would like to avoid the kind of firestorm created by the Holcomb plants.
Another factor looming in the future is the expected new standards on power plant emissions from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Although the EPA doesn't currently regulate carbon dioxide emissions, the agency is expected to set such standards within the next few years. Any action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions now logically would mitigate measures that would be mandated by the EPA.
Westar already had planned to spend more than $750 million over five years to reduce emissions such as sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide, which already are regulated by the state. It also announced last month that it would put off building any new coal-fired plants as long as possible because of "growing opposition" to such plants. There probably also are economic contributors to that decision, but it is interesting in light of the aggressive battle being waged by Sunflower Electric Power Corp. for the Holcomb plants.
It remains to be seen exactly how much effect Westar's voluntary plan will have on reducing emissions from its power plants, but the willingness of the electrical utility to work cooperatively with state regulators is a refreshing and positive approach.