New coal-fired electric plant near Holcomb now off company’s near-term agenda

? As Kansas politicians battle over the proposed coal-burning plants, the Colorado-based electricity supplier that has been a major player in pushing for approval has dropped the project from its “near-term” planning, and has announced a greater commitment to renewable energy.

“The delays in permitting the Kansas project make it unlikely to be available in the near-term,” said Ken Anderson, who is executive vice president and general manager of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.

“If a project is eventually permitted, it would remain an option for our long-term resource needs,” Anderson said.

In 2005, Tri-State announced a plan to buy power from two 700-megawatt coal-fired plants that Hays-based Sunflower Electric Power Corp. proposed building near Holcomb.

But in 2007, Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Rod Bremby blocked Sunflower’s proposal over concerns about potential carbon dioxide emissions and global warming.

That decision has sparked an ongoing political standoff in Kansas..

Sunflower Electric has succeeded in getting the Legislature to approve bills that would require the permits to be granted, but Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has vetoed those efforts. Another bill has been sent to her desk, and she has indicated she again will veto it.

Last week, Tri-State’s board said it would review its plans for coal-based power and focus more on renewable energy, natural gas and energy efficiency to meet the needs of 1.4 million customers in Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming.

Several Tri-State customers and environmentalists in Colorado said Tri-State’s decision represented a major turn away from coal-based power.

“We applaud Tri-State for taking this step, for recognizing that renewable energy and more efficient energy use are core components of sound resource planning and good for customers,” said John Nielsen, energy project director for Western Resource Advocates.

But Sunflower Electric officials said Tri-State remains committed to the Kansas project.

“They’re doing what everyone else is doing and that is looking at their options,” said Cindy Hertel, a spokeswoman for Sunflower Electric.

Tri-State’s Anderson said ongoing uncertainty in both state and federal policies, and the economic downturn prompted the association to re-evaluate its long-term strategy and how coal-based generating units fit into that plan.

“Significant changes in the regulatory climate and economy impact development projects and have disproportionately affected the near-term outlook for coal-based resources,” said Anderson.

As part of its near-term planning, Tri-State said it will expand its resources by:

— Contracting for 220-megawatts of natural gas-based capacity in eastern Colorado.

— Developing a 30-megawatt solar plant in New Mexico.

— Incent community-based renewable energy projects.

— Enhance energy efficiency including incentives for customers to buy ENERGY Star-rated appliances.

— Commissioning a study on further energy efficiency savings.