Topeka A renewable energy bill won final legislative approval Friday, which would allow Gov. Mark Parkinson and a utility to close a deal that would give southwest Kansas a new coal-fired power plant.
The House approved the bill, 103-18, sending it to Parkinson, who had made its passage a condition for allowing Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to build an 895-megawatt power plant near Holcomb in Finney County.
Parkinson didn't mention the coal plant in a statement following the House vote but focused on the bill's provisions promoting conservation and renewable energy. Among them are a requirement that all utilities generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
"Now, we've passed a comprehensive energy package that will create jobs and put Kansas at the forefront of renewable energy efforts," Parkinson said.
The Senate had passed the bill on a 37-2 vote Thursday night.
Parkinson brokered the deal to end the 19-month impasse over the state's refusal in October 2007 to issue an air-quality permit for Sunflower to build two plants at the same site.
Passage of the bill also would end lawsuits by Sunflower challenging the permit denial. The Hays-based utility had argued that the state's top environmental regulator had overstepped his authority.
The bill contains "green" provisions, including incentives for consumers to use wind- and solar-powered generators and use of alternative fuels.
"Kansas stands to gain thousands of jobs from a renewable energy economy, and the work we've accomplished this (legislative) session puts us on solid ground to move forward," Parkinson said.
But environmental groups criticized the agreement between Parkinson and Sunflower CEO Earl Watkins Jr. The Sierra Club's state chapter said it was "packed with escape clauses" for the utility.
"The notion that Kansas needed to build new coal to advance our renewable energy resources is absolutely false," the group said in a written statement. "This sweetheart deal for the coal industry will leave Kansas with weak renewable energy policy, increased pollution, and an unneeded coal plant."
Even Rep. Jason Watkins, a Wichita Republican who supports construction of the coal plant and voted for the bill, didn't see its "green" provisions as strong enough.
"I don't think they mean anything," he said. "I don't think we're being honest with the people of Kansas when we tell them we're for renewable energy."
Parkinson began negotiating with Sunflower hours after he become governor April 28, when Kathleen Sebelius resigned to become U.S. secretary of health and human services.
Sunflower initially planned to build two coal-fired plants in southwest Kansas. But Health and Environment Secretary Rod Bremby denied Sunflower an air-quality permit over environmental concerns.
Legislators passed three bills last year to overturn the denial and a fourth this year; Sebelius vetoed them all.
The single power plant could generate enough electricity to meet the peak demands of 448,000 households. Plans also call for construction of two transmission lines, each capable of carrying 1,000 megawatts into Colorado. Those lines are vital to the future growth of wind power in the state.
Sunflower would sell 78 percent of the new power to two out-of-state electric cooperatives helping to finance the project. They are Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc. of Westminster, Colo., and Golden Spread Electric Cooperative in Amarillo, Texas.
About 1,500 construction jobs would be created during the four years needed to build the plant. Construction could start by the end of 2010.
Sunflower agreed to take steps to offset the plant's potential CO2 emissions that include setting up new wind-powered generators and using biomass fuels such as waste wood.