Jobs pitted against environment at coal-fired plant hearing

Department hears arguments on jobs, environment

Holcomb 1, pictured above, is operating at 85 percent capacity. The Holcomb Station Project proposed by Sunflower Electric Power Corporation would add a second plant that would operate at 90 percent capacity.

? The debate over the planned coal-fired electric power plant aired Wednesday as state environmental officials went on the road to receive public comment.

About 100 people attended the first portion of a hearing on a proposal by Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to build the 895-megawatt plant. Another 75 people were on hand for the evening portion of the hearing.

From pipefitters to Earl Watkins, president and chief executive officer of Hays-based Sunflower Electric, supporters testified that the project would be environmentally sound and give Kansas an economic boost during tough times.

Approximately 1,500 workers would be needed to construct the facility in Finney County.

Ron Pomeroy, owner of an iron foundry in Belle Plaine, said businesses depend on the inexpensive, reliable power produced by coal-burning plants. “This project is good for Kansas families and good for Kansas business,” he said.

Controversy continues

The proposal has been simmering for years. Originally it was cast as two 700 megawatt units but that was rejected in 2007 by Kansas Department of Health and

Environment Secretary Roderick Bremby and former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius who cited the project’s carbon dioxide emissions and the effects on climate change and health.

But when Gov. Mark Parkinson took office last year he brokered a deal to allow Sunflower Electric to build one 895-megawatt power plant.

Now the process of gathering public comment is under way.

On Wednesday, officials from Finney County and several western Kansas towns lobbied for the plant.

Matt Allen, city manager of Garden City, accused people in other areas of the state who were fighting the plant, of hypocrisy.

“Please unlock the handcuffs that the state arbitrarily placed on us three years ago,” Allen urged KDHE.

Cost of carbon dioxide

But environmentalists said the jobs related to the project would come at too great a cost to the environment and future generations. Every year, the plant would pump millions of tons of climate changing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

They said Kansas should focus on developing renewable energy sources, such as the abundance of wind in the state. “To allow a coal plant right in our sweet spot (of wind energy) has got to be the stupidest thing our state can do,” said Jerry Brown of Salina.

But Watkins, the head of Sunflower Electric, argued that wind power wasn’t reliable enough because when the wind wasn’t blowing, no electricity could be produced for hospitals, schools, businesses, and homes.

Brown, however, argued that far-reaching regional coordination of wind farms could be devised. “If it’s not blowing one place, it’s blowing at another,” he said.

Others questioned the environmental impact of importing coal from Wyoming to produce power in Kansas and then exporting most of that power — all but 200

megawatts — to hundreds of thousands of customers in Colorado and other states.

Sister Judy Stephens of Concordia said she was concerned with the pollution and danger of coal mining. “We have abundant wind and sun with no toxic

byproducts,” she said.

Need for jobs

But a number of union members spoke in favor of the project, focusing on the jobs and economic needs of families.

Don Henry Jr. of Augusta, a pipefitter for 29 years, said his occupation put three of his children through college. And, he said, Sunflower Electric cared about the environment. “I’ve never seen an electric company more in tune with upkeep,” he said.

Stephanie Cole, with the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club, questioned how sure the project’s job forecasts were, saying that Colorado-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the major partner in the project, was pushing for the plant as simply an option in its pursuit of energy sources. “Kansas is spending a lot of time and resources to keep options open for a Colorado co-op,” she said.

Another public hearing conducted by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment will be held Thursday in Garden City.

The period for the public to comment on the proposed permit is open until Aug. 15. To submit comments via email, send them to To mail comments, send them to Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Bureau of Air, Attn: Sunflower Comments, 1000 SW Jackson Suite 310, Topeka, Kansas 66612-1366