Colo. power company interested in Sunflower coal plants looking at how it could be more efficient

? The Colorado company wanting to build a coal-burning power plant in southwest Kansas has reached a settlement with an environmental advocacy group that will result in an extensive study on how the company could be more energy efficient.

The agreement between Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and Environment Colorado could affect plans to build future plants, according to an official with Environment Colorado.

“This study can help serve as a road map for Tri-State to increase the energy efficiency of homes, businesses, farms and ranches in rural Colorado,” said Keith Hay, energy advocate at Environment Colorado. “As a result, Environment Colorado believes Tri-State can save money for their consumer-owners and reduce the need for new energy-generation facilities.”

Tri-State is the main partner with Hays-based Sunflower Electric Power Corp. in the proposal to build two 700-megawatt coal-burning plants near Holcomb. Under the plan, Tri-State will own one plant and Sunflower and Texas-based Golden Spread Electric Cooperative Inc. will own the other. About 85 percent of the power produced by the project will be sent to out-of-state customers.

Lee Boughey, a spokesman for Tri-State, said the company remains committed to the Holcomb project.

He said the energy-efficiency study will help Tri-State, whose member cooperatives’ energy requirements have grown an average of 4 percent annually over the past 10 years.

“In addition to efficiency, our cooperatives remain committed to a balance of new renewable and conventional projects, including the Holcomb Station expansion, to meet their long-term resource needs,” he said.

The Holcomb project has been in limbo. In 2007, Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Roderick Bremby rejected permits for the project, citing the health and environmental impact of the plants’ annual emission of 11 million tons of carbon dioxide.

In 2008, state lawmakers approved three bills that would have required construction of the plants, but Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed each of the measures and the Legislature was unable to muster a two-thirds majority to overturn the vetoes.

Sunflower Electric and Tri-State have challenged the permit denials in federal and state court, and are back before the Legislature this session pushing for another showdown.

Meanwhile in Colorado, Tri-State has been laying the foundation for possibly building a new power plant, perhaps even a nuclear facility, in southeastern Colorado.

It had been challenged by Environment Colorado in a dispute over changing water usage, but the environmental group withdrew its lawsuit in exchange for Tri-State’s agreement to work in a far-reaching energy-efficiency study, which will be completed by February 2010. Tri-State supplies wholesale power to cooperatives in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Nebraska that serve about 1.4 million people.