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Archive for Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Legislators hope to bring swift end to coal battle with necessary legislation

A day after Gov. Mark Parkinson announced a deal allowing one new coal-fired power plant in southwest Kansas, state lawmakers are looking to move quickly to close the deal.

May 5, 2009, 12:20 p.m. Updated May 5, 2009, 4:55 p.m.

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— Legislators promised Tuesday to move quickly to close a deal allowing a new coal-fired power plant in southwest Kansas, but a few of them expected to spend a day or two slogging through the details.

The agreement between Gov. Mark Parkinson and Earl Watkins Jr., the chief executive officer of Sunflower Electric Power Corp., requires legislators to pass a bill enacting measures Parkinson wants to promote renewable energy.

The bill also would have a provision sought by Sunflower and its allies to limit the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s power to regulate greenhouse gases and other pollutants.

Legislators in both parties expect the bill to pass easily because the agreement, signed Monday by Parkinson and Watkins, would end a 19-month dispute between the governor’s office and the Hays-based utility.

But an early draft of the bill contained 38 pages of technical language, and legislative leaders are having it reviewed by three senators and three House members who’d normally negotiate the final version of any energy bill. Rep. Carl Dean Holmes, leader of the House team, said the work could delay votes by the House and Senate until Thursday.

“We need to have a chance to go through it,” said Holmes, a Republican from Liberal.

Hays-based Sunflower had wanted to build two 700-megawatt coal-fired plants outside the southwest Kansas town of Holcomb. But in October 2007, KDHE Secretary Rod Bremby denied Sunflower an air-quality permit citing potential carbon-dioxide emissions, which some scientists link to global warming.

Parkinson’s predecessor, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, vetoed four bills to overturn Bremby’s decision. Each bill tied such provisions to measures for promoting conservation and renewable energy.

The new governor began negotiating with Sunflower almost immediately upon taking office April 28, the day Sebelius resigned to become the health and human services secretary.

The new coal plant allowed by the agreement would have a generating capacity of 895 megawatts, producing enough electricity to meet the peak demands of 448,000 households. Sunflower agreed to take steps to offset the plant’s potential CO2 emissions that include setting up new wind-powered generators.

The green provisions called for by the agreement are stronger than ones previously approved by legislators. They include a requirement that all utilities generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and incentives for consumers to use wind- and solar-powered generators.

“The conflict ends,” said Rep. Tom Sloan, a Lawrence Republican heavily involved in energy debates. “We move forward on energy policy for the next 40 years.”

But the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club remained disappointed in the agreement because it opposed any new coal plant.

“Kansas took a big step backwards,” the group said in a statement. “We cannot build new coal plants and claim to want to slow global warming at the same time.”

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