Overland Park Holcomb resident Bryce Nolde drove across the state Monday to endorse construction of a $3 billion coal-fired electricity plant in far southwest Kansas.
He said personal and professional reasons inspired him to deliver that message to Kansas Department of Health and Environment officials weighing a request for an air permit required for construction of the 895-megawatt expansion by Hays-based Sunflower Electric Power Corp.
Nolde’s grandfather supervised concrete work on Sunflower’s lone coal unit at Holcomb. Nolde, the third generation to work at the family’s Rok-Hard concrete firm, said the company needed the economic stimulus such a massive project would offer. It would benefit him in the near term, he said, but also help secure a new generation’s place in the business.
“I am looking forward to bidding on the Holcomb expansion,” Nolde said.
Lenexa nurse Nancy Talley reached the opposite conclusion but also pointed to concern for the next generation. She said pollution caused by coal plants was unacceptable. The world doesn’t need to dump into the food chain more mercury, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and other toxins emerging from stacks at coal facilities, she said.
“There is no such thing as clean coal,” she said. “This insanity must stop. Stop this permit for our children.”
Several hundred people spent the day at Blue Valley Northwest High School for the first public hearing on an application from Sunflower for the permit. Similar KDHE hearings are scheduled for today in Salina and Thursday in Garden City.
Kansas’ coal debate exploded in October 2007 when the KDHE rejected Sunflower’s request for a permit on a proposed 1,400-megawatt plant in Holcomb. The decision led to attempts by the Kansas Legislature to reverse KDHE Secretary Rod Bremby in 2008 and 2009, but those bills were vetoed by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
After Sebelius resigned in 2009, Gov. Mark Parkinson entered into an agreement with Sunflower that allowed the company to move ahead with the smaller coal plant in exchange for legislative concessions on “green” energy policy.
Earl Watkins, Sunflower’s president and chief executive officer, said Sunflower had invested in coal, wind, biofuels and natural gas projects to provide reliable, affordable energy to customers.