Archive for Thursday, March 31, 2011

Federal judge sides with Sierra Club in ruling over coal-fired power plant in southwest Kansas

March 31, 2011, 1:29 p.m. Updated March 31, 2011, 2:11 p.m.


— A federal judge in Washington has sided with the Sierra Club in a legal dispute over a proposed coal-fired power plant in western Kansas, and an attorney for the environmental group predicted Thursday that the decision will at least delay the project.

U.S. District Judge Emmett Sullivan ruled in a lawsuit filed in October 2007 by the Sierra Club against the federal Rural Utilities Service. The lawsuit alleged that the RUS is required by federal law to do an environmental study of the project and have public hearings before allowing Sunflower Electric Power Corp., based in Hays, to build additional coal-fired generating capacity.

Sullivan said in a three-page order filed Tuesday that he decided in favor of the Sierra Club, but most of his decision remains under seal to protect the utility's confidential financial information. Attorneys have seen a longer, 54-page version from the judge, who plans to consider how much more information to make public next month.

Sunflower plans to build its new coal-fired plant outside Holcomb, in southwest Kansas. The RUS, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, must sign off on decisions related to the project because it provided past financial support to Sunflower and oversaw corporate reorganizations.

Sullivan's order doesn't say what RUS will be required to do to comply with his order and asks for more arguments from attorneys on proposed remedies.

Jan Hasselman, an attorney for Earthjustice, which is representing the Sierra Club, said the decision means the federal agency is likely to be required to conduct an environmental study and consider alternatives to the coal plant. He said that process could put the project on hold for 18 months to two years and could ultimately block it.

"He essentially agreed with all our arguments," Hasselman said. "What we're saying is that the government needs to take a time-out on further approval of this project before we've thought it through."

Sunflower declined to comment because most of Sullivan's decision remains under seal. The RUS also declined comment because the case is pending.

The company supplies power for about 400,000 Kansans and plans to build a plant with a capacity of 895 megawatts, enough to meet the peak demands of 448,000 households, according to one state estimate. Three-quarters of the new capacity, or 695 megawatts, would be reserved for a Sunflower partner, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc., of Westminster, Colo.

That's a sore point for many critics of Sunflower's push to add coal-fired generating capacity, but the utility's supporters say exporting electricity is as beneficial as exporting beef, wheat and other agricultural commodities.

The lawsuit in Washington is among several challenges by the Sierra Club aimed at slowing down or stopping Sunflower's $2.8 billion project.

In a case before the Kansas Supreme Court, the group is trying to overturn an air-quality permit issued for the project by the state Department of Health and Environment in December, arguing that it's too lax in regulating potential pollutants.

Last month, the group demanded aggressive action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, telling its regional administrator in Kansas City, Mo., in writing that he's legally obligated to object to the state permit. The regional EPA office has said parts of the permit aren't stringent enough and has asked for a "dialogue" with state officials.

Hasselman said the court ruling in Washington will force the RUS to examine options for Sunflower, such as investing in conservation efforts and renewable energy.

"This project is bad for human health. It's bad for the environment," Hasselman said. "It's financially risky."

But Sunflower has said it will need extra generating capacity, and its supporters, including many legislators, argue that the project will bring economic development to western Kansas.

Sunflower previously wanted to build two 700-megawatt plants. But in October 2007, KDHE rejected an air quality permit, citing the plants' potential emissions of greenhouse gases linked by scientists to global warming.

Then-Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius stood behind the decision, and her dispute with the utility spilled into the Republican-controlled Legislature. It blocked legislation promoting renewable energy and tried unsuccessfully to override the permit denial.

Sebelius stepped down as governor in April 2009 to become U.S. health and human services secretary. Almost immediately, new Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson brokered a deal with Sunflower to allow one coal-fired plant, clearing the way for passage of "green" legislation he favored.

Parkinson left office in January, but Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is a strong supporter of the utility's plans.


Bill Griffith 7 years ago

This appears to be a significant setback for Sunflower. There will likely be a hold put on any construction at the site. An EIS will probably take 18-24 months at the very least and this will go down in history as one of the longest sagas in the fight over new coal plants.

KEITHMILES05 7 years ago

Another "consumer" group only adding to the cost which consumers must pay. Makes alot of sense. NOT!

gccs14r 7 years ago

What is the cost of depleting the aquifer?

kusp8 7 years ago

.......or stopping the degradation of air quality?

Bill Griffith 7 years ago

Sunflower mismanaged their last coal plant construction and is still deeply in hock to the federal government-do you acknowledge the fact that Sunflower still has millions to pay on this debt? Yes/No....

verity 7 years ago

What I find disturbing is " the Republican-controlled Legislature . . . . blocked legislation promoting renewable energy . . . ."

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

Never mind that taxpayers are on the hook to guarantee the cost of construction and insurance on this very very expensive and reckless spending adventure.

Why some support the most expensive sources of generating energy baffles me.

The destruction of our air and water plus the mercury and radioactive ash are monster concerns!

bad_dog 7 years ago

Tom if you're inferring that delaying the project if nothing else (as a form of harassment) was the primary intent of the Sierra Club, I believe you're mistaken. I interpreted the comment to mean that at the minimum the ruling will delay the project. Obviously, whatever else occurs depends on the outcome of the litigation, EIS, etc.

Do you support this plant's construction in the absence of the federally mandated EIS? I would have believed you would support enforcement of the law. Perhaps I'm mistaken. Wouldn't be the first time.

Scott Drummond 7 years ago

Thanks Sierra Club. Good use of my donation

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

Wind power takes less than a year to yield net energy, and solar or photovoltaic power nets energy in less than three years.

riverdrifter 7 years ago

Not enough water. Every ag irrigator within 50 miles should be raising hell -and they are.

Randall Uhrich 7 years ago

I'll be glad when they sh!tcan this whole mess. It's just another example of making the public bear risks and costs while privatizing profits. Enough already!

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

Because it is you and me that guarantee construction costs and insurance. Construction costs are famous for their large cost over runs.

Bottom line: It is best for taxpayers and ratepayers to demand termination of all existing coal and nuke plants as both produce radioactive waste,both produce very expensive energy and cost billions to replace.

A combination of new local energy sources would produce cleaner more efficient energy. Additionally this combination would not only provide considerably more jobs throughout the states but also safer employment,reduce our cost of living and reduce the cost of doing business.

From the Union of Concerned Scientists

Rebuilding economies






Flap Doodle 7 years ago

It appears that Les is also forgetting that attribution thing. Does Greg Pahl know that you are passing his work off as your own?

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

Renewing America's Economy - A national renewable electricity standard would require electric utilities to supply a minimum percentage of their electricity from renewable sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, and bioenergy. Similar policies have already been enacted in 21 states and the District of Columbia.

The U.S. Senate has voiced its support for a 10 percent by 2020 national standard three times since 2002—most recently in June 2005. Congress has also considered a national standard of 20 percent by 2020.

We modified the model using more optimistic assumptions for renewable energy technology costs and performance that are more in line with projections by the Department of Energy’s national laboratories. Our analysis found that a 20 percent standard would reduce electricity and natural gas prices and provide significant economic and environmental benefits for America.

Job Creation - 355,000 new jobs—nearly twice as many as generating electricity from fossil fuels

Economic Development - $72.6 billion in new capital investment, $16.2 billion in income to farmers, ranchers, and rural landowners, and $5.0 billion in new local tax revenues

Consumer Savings - $49 billion in lower electricity and natural gas bills

Healthier Environment - Reductions of global warming pollution equal to taking nearly 71 million cars off the road, plus less haze, smog, acid rain, mercury contamination, and water use.

Union of Concerned Scientists

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