Garden City Sunflower Electric Power Corp. chief Earl Watkins says he believes chances are good that Sunflower’s proposed 895-megawatt coal-fired power plant will be built.
“I think that the political winds are moving back toward a state of reasonable recognition about what this country really needs,” said Watkins, president and chief executive officer of the Hays-based utility.
Watkins’ comments came after last week’s three public hearings conducted in Overland Park, Salina and Garden City by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
Several groups have fought the project based on environmental and economic concerns, and they had their largest presence at the Overland Park meeting. But as the hearings moved west to Salina and then Garden City, support for the project grew into a large majority, coming from organized labor, economic development officials and politicians.
Three years ago, supporters of the project, which would be built near Holcomb, about 20 miles west of Garden City, were stunned when KDHE Secretary Roderick Bremby rejected a permit for two 700-megawatt plants. Bremby cited concerns over the environmental and health effects of carbon dioxide emissions. Sunflower Electric sought a legislative reversal of Bremby’s decision but then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed those attempts.
When Sebelius left office to join President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, her replacement, Gov. Mark Parkinson, brokered a deal with Sunflower Electric to build one 895-megawatt plant.
The Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club has criticized the coal-burning plant’s emissions and the effect that would have on climate change and the health of Kansans.
And they also say the project’s electrical output is unneeded.
“A decision to construct a substantial amount of additional excess generation capacity puts Kansas ratepayers and all American taxpayers at risk,” said Amanda Goodin, an attorney with Earthjustice, which is representing the Sierra Club.
Under the proposal, 695 megawatts of the 895-megawatt plant will be owned by the Colorado-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and used by customers in Colorado and other states.
But Sunflower Electric says its 200-megawatt portion is needed because it will lose a contract for 173 megawatts from Westar’s Jeffrey Energy Center in 2019.
With the new plant, Watkins said, Sunflower Electric gets new power and receives payments from Tri-State to operate the plant.
“It replaces the baselaod resource we need and imports cash to reduce our operating costs,” which, he said, will help Sunflower Electric’s ratepayers.
But Watkins said getting the permit from KDHE doesn’t necessarily mean the project will go forward.
If a permit is granted, he said, the project would be engineered to the permit specifications and put out for bid. Once the costs of the facility and interest rates are nailed down, he said, “That is when you are going to make the reasonable decision to go forward or not go forward.”
If the permit is granted by the end of the year, Watkins said, “Eighteen months to two years from now, you’d expect a shovel to get stuck in the ground if we’re going to go forward.”