Archive for Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Statehouse Live: Sierra Club seeks EPA involvement in permit process of proposed coal-burning plant

September 21, 2010, 8:35 a.m. Updated September 22, 2010, 8:48 a.m.


— An environmental group has asked federal regulators “to play a more active role” in the permitting process for a coal-fired electric plant in southwest Kansas because the group says state officials are succumbing to political pressure from supporters of the project.

In a letter to the EPA, attorneys for the Sierra Club said they are concerned about the integrity of the permitting process because of a recent report that said state officials were putting the proposed plant on track to get its permit before new federal rules on greenhouse gas emissions take effect Jan. 2.

“Attempts to accelerate the permitting will adversely affect a thorough, unprejudiced and accurate review of the draft permit and public comments,” the letter from attorneys Todd True and Amanda Goodin said. The letter was sent to Karl Brooks, administrator of the EPA’s Region 7 office in Kansas City, Kan.

The letter references a report earlier this month by The Associated Press which outlined recent meetings between supporters of the project and the governor’s office, and statements from supporters to shorten a public comment period on the permit.

Sunflower Electric Power Corp. is seeking a permit for an 895-megawatt coal-burning plant near Holcomb in Finney County.

Environmentalists say a shorter comment period would indicate that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment is trying to rush a decision on the permit.

“KDHE’s ability to provide a fair public process is at immediate risk from political pressure,” the letter states.

The Sierra Club also told the EPA that Sunflower’s partner, Colorado-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, is saying that it currently has no need for the new capacity from the plant.

On Jan. 2, new rules will take effect requiring new coal-fired plants to use the best technology available to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which most scientists say are causing global climate change.

Sunflower Electric’s effort to get a permit has been debated for years. In October 2007, KDHE Secretary Roderick Bremby denied a permit for two coal-fired plants because of concerns about climate change.

Gov. Mark Parkinson then made a deal that would allow an 895-megawatt plant once the Legislature approved several renewable energy initiatives, which it did.

Cindy Hertel, a spokeswoman for Sunflower Electric, said opponents are trying to delay the process, and that there will be ample time to review the permit. "The EPA has had input in the permitting process from the beginning," Hertel said. "We are confident that KDHE will issue a solid permit that will protect the health and environment of Kansas."


Randall Uhrich 7 years ago

Sunflower Electric Power Corp isn't interested in selling electricity--they're selling a generating plant that's not needed and expecting taxpayers and consumers to pay for it. The water required will also accelerate the decline of the Ogallala Aquifer, and push up the price of corn and beef in the area. These aren't unintended consequences; these promoters have a hand in all of this. Sebelius stopped them. Time for us to stop them again.

Joe Hyde 7 years ago

Good job, Sierra Club!

Although the people who oppose this powerplant are often characterized as "leftist loonies" or assigned similar monikers by the plant's proponents, in truth the efforts to shield our state's air quality and vital western aquifer from contamination and over-exploitation by outside corporate interests is politically about as conservative as you can get.

missunderestimate 7 years ago

The Sierra Club is writing a letter to Karl Brooks? Isn't that the same Karl Brooks who testified against the Sunflower plant proposals two years ago before he moved the EPA? I wonder if Karl Brooks wrote the letter and sent it to the Sierra Club to be mailed back to him.

Tsk, tsk, tsk.

Remember to vote for Bristol tonight. Restore America!

missunderestimate 7 years ago

Is Merrill a real person or just a website?

Clark Coan 7 years ago

The Sierra Club is right on the mark. The process isn't fair and objective. The governor is trying to force issuance of a permit before all the information is gathered and analyzed.

SDTPlant 7 years ago

Keep additional coal fired plants out-support clean, green, wind, solar (photovoltaics), and bio fuels from non food plants such as hemp, switchgrass, and others.

devobrun 7 years ago

Winds slow, the sun goes down at night, and it gets cloudy, SDT. What is your backup for the unreliable alternatives? Figure 100 GJ per acre of switchgrass grown in Kansas. Switch does best in warm, humid environments. Yields in western Kansas would be modest. At 20 gigajoules per tonne and 5 tonnes of dry material per acre, you get this number.

Call the Holcom plant a gigawatt plant. A joule per second is a watt, so the plant produces 10 to the 9 joules per second. So an acre of Kansas land growing switchgrass runs the plant for 100 seconds. Efficiency is certainly less than 100%. At 30% conversion from switchgrass to electricity (generous) that's about 30 seconds of operation per acre.

Assuming a duty cycle for the alternatives of 30% means that the switchgrass backup runs 70% of the time. There are 32 million seconds in a year. So, 10 million acres of switchgrass would be needed to supply the energy for the backup for the wind and sun.

There are 52 million acres in Kansas. Bye bye wheat.

Ken Lassman 7 years ago

You were trying to make a point that is absurd, since it is a scenario that does not include energy efficiency, continuing to use existing power plants, etc. All you really need to generate with renewables is enough to cover new growth, which is much more modest, at least for the time being, especially if you have a reasonable energy efficiency program, something that is the best possible investment our state could invest in.

Sam Brownback is pushing hard for a 15% Renewable Energy Standard, which means that we would shoot for 15% of our electricity generated with renewables by 2020. I think this is a modest but reasonable goal. Why do you think he's doing that? Jobs for Kansans is high on the list--we're the second or third windiest state and have a growing wind energy industry in our state to help grow.

Finally, to call your bluff on the switchgrass, why not pelletize it and use it to heat homes directly? Much more efficient than generating electricity to send to the homes and heat them that way.

devobrun 7 years ago

So you don't propose reducing CO2 emission, just not increase it. Efficiency is included in the calculation. And I must say, it was a modest 30% with a modest 30% duty cycle for the alternatives. Oh wait, you mean insulating houses and other energy saving techniques. Well, you just changed the subject, didn't you. I don't deny that saving energy is a valuable goal, so long as the techniques are sound. If you have 4 inches of insulation in your attic, go to 8 or 12 inches. But if your attic has 10 inches of insulation and you go to 20 inches, you may find that the savings are less than the energy cost of the insulation. Simple R-value calculations and energy budget for your dwelling will show you what is best. I'm all for it. Because it works. Windmills are a bad idea.

Now, if demand increases and the new demand is met with alternatives, the question is how often are there brownouts due to demand which cannot be met by the system? There are hot days in July and August when people come home and turn on the stove, washer/dryer and turn the temp down in their home at 6:00 pm.

Demand shoots up and the cosine of the sun's zenith angle is about 0.67. So 2/3 of the solar is available, even if there are no clouds. The average wind speed happens to be only 12 mph while the design speed of the windmill is 22 mph. So wind output is 16% design output.

If half the alternative energy is in each then you have about 40% available. If the alternative represents 20% of the generation, we are operating with 92% of demand. So your EMF drops to 105 volts. Bad for electric motors. Brownouts. Holcom would be able to account for the difference.

Yes, pelletized switchgrass could be burned in the home. Then you would need a new furnace. And you would need to deliver those pellets to each home. Bagging, transporting pellets and the retrofitting of homes with pellet-burners doesn't look like a viable heating method, especially when you consider that they don't cool your home in the summer, or dry your clothes, or cook your beans. But burning natural gas is way more efficient for all those tasks. For one thing, when your house is warm, the gas turns off. Switchgrass stoves are not so controllable.

Try again. I am quite unconvinced by switchgrass as an alternative to coal and gas. In the old days, engineers were the arbiters of such matters. Today, these decisions are made at a much higher level. Nobel prize winners, heavy-duty bureaucrats, PhD.s and Presidents. The lowly engineer sits by and watches as the flim flam men steer the opinions of bobbleheaded sycophants who couldn't find their butt with both hands.....but they sure do hate corporations.

Ken Lassman 7 years ago

It's good that you can push your pencil and calculate, which puts you ahead of the average Joe. Unfortunately your model is too simplistic. You need to look at the actual data and have your model better reflect reality.

For instance, according to the Energy Information Agency, in 2008, the amount of actual energy produced dropped a whopping 4%. The amount of that energy produced by coal fired plants dropped an even more astounding 11%. During that same time, the amount of energy produced by wind and solar increased. A significant amount of the reduction in coal fired electricity was due to simple economics, which not only favored wind and solar, it also favored natural gas, which got the lion's share of the shift away from coal.

But despite much of the shift going to natural gas, overall greenhouse gas emissions in the US dropped 7%, and 55% of this drop was simply because electrical production shifted away from coal fired plants.

And guess what? In 2009, the total electrical usage dropped another 5% and the amount of wind and solar generated power jumped even more than in 2008.

So as you can see, I don't have to propose reducing carbon emission or a shift away from coal fired plants: it's already happening. And since we both agree that energy efficiency is a good idea, I'll only point out that the drop in energy use during the past year is not just economic downturn drops: it's also partly due to increased energy efficiency. California per capita use has remained largely flat since the 70s while it has gone up in many other states primarily due to the fact that they have some of the most progressive efficiency programs in the country.

I only pointed out the switchgrass example as a comparison between burning it to generate electricity and heating a home directly by burning it. In other words, how many pounds of switchgrass would it take to heat a home both ways? And it is very unfair to try to compare building a complete production, distribution and consumption infrastructure against one that has already been built. Talk about externalizing costs!

kenos 7 years ago

Foundations supported by mega elitist bankers like the Rockefellers support the Sierra Club. Top executives make big bucks supporting their interests. Their plan is essentially Agenda 21 touted by the U.N. The U.N. was set up by the Rockefeller's. They want to de-industrialize the United States. Why do you think all our industry has moved off shore? These phony environmentalists are being duped into supporting our own destruction. How about protecting us against GMO's. Sebelius was all for GMO rice being grown in Kansas. That rice had human genes in it. Instead, we're concerned about CO2.

devobrun 7 years ago

Crazy isn't it Kenos. I was working for industry in the 1970s when OSHA, EPA, ADA, and many other new wrinkles were added to the plate of corporate execs. HR directors were not board level jobs in those days. Boss wants you fired....bye bye.

The heavy industries that battled the new regs lost. They are gone. Those who figured out that they could increase business by accepting the additional costs of all those regs and pass it along to customers looked bad early, then they waited out the dinosaurs and ultimately took over the whole industry.

Lost money, but had a reserve. Execs invested when stocks were low and waited out the sector. In the end they were left standing and their stock prices went up. And when the commodity grew short in supply, the high prices were paid and inflation happened. No, really, it was called stagflation.

But finally, the costs just got too high. The retirement, unemployment, law suits, and general harassment by NGOs and government regulators has made the operation of all businesses obsolete. The only way to make money today is to cheat. ENRON and other companies that do nothing but shuffle money around evade taxes, buy off prosecutors and politicians.

Our economy is not toast because of Wall Street. It is because engineers and technicians have nothing to do. There is no free market anymore. There are no reasons to take a chance. We are living in a bureaucracy and innovation and risk is proscribed by the government.

There is really no way to make an honest buck. The honest people obey the regs and go outta business. The smart people cheat and make money and disappear.

So business is demonized. And government is still wildly inefficient. And the aging hippies go to the local bar and reminisce. And pontificate, like me. Only I long for the good ole days when people went to work and did something. Instead of talking on their cell phones.

And so GE is in investment and windmills, because the government told them to innovate. And they built things that don't work, but made GE some money via subsidies. Edison would be p.o ed.

Ken Lassman 7 years ago

Um, actually, GE is investing much more in nuclear power, the multi-national's favorite corporate socialism's project. Nothing else comes close when it comes to printing your own money, since the taxpayer has guaranteed to write GE a check regardless of whether that plant will produce a single kilowatt in the event that it goes belly up--as have roughly half of the planned nuclear power plants that didn't make it much past the drawing board, or even got quite a ways down the road before it was abandoned.

And somehow, despite your assertion that windmills don't work, 38 Gigawatts of installed wind capacity was put in place worldwide last year, including 9.9 Gigawatts in the US. In the middle of an economic downturn, even. That makes the total 160 GW of installed wind power and growing.

And how many new kwh of coal was installed last year? Nuclear? Think of a nice round number.....

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