City Commission opposes western Kansas power plant

The Lawrence City Commission doesn’t like a large coal-fired power plant complex proposed for western Kansas, and commissioners don’t care whether their opinion ruffles the feathers of other state leaders.

City commissioners on a 3-2 vote Tuesday night agreed to submit a formal comment letter to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment opposing the issuance of permits for a new power plant complex near Holcomb that would produce about 2,100 jobs for western Kansas.

“To not get involved in this issue would make all of our other efforts we talk about as a city in regards to clean air programs rather meaningless,” said City Commissioner Mike Rundle, who proposed the idea of a letter and was joined by Commissioners Boog Highberger and David Schauner in supporting it.

The letter – which is being submitted as part of a KDHE public comment period that runs through Nov. 30 – also asks the governor to place a moratorium on additional coal-fired power plants until a feasibility study is conducted regarding the potential of renewable energy sources.

Mayor Mike Amyx and Commissioner Sue Hack voted against sending the letter, although Amyx said he would do his mayoral duty and sign it. Both Amyx and Hack said they had concerns that the letter may create significant ill will toward Lawrence from western Kansas legislators and leaders.

“I think there can be unintended consequences about what happens to requests from the university at the statewide level, about what happens to requests from Lawrence at the statewide level,” Hack said. “We have plenty to do and a full plate of our own issues. I think that is where we need to concentrate our efforts.”

Rundle said he thought the letter was worth sending regardless of any political ramifications it might have.

“That is just part of the noisy, messy political system we live in,” Rundle said.

The letter largely criticizes the plant proposal on environmental grounds. It expresses concerns about the amount of carbon dioxide – a gas considered a prime cause of global warming – that would be released by the plant. It also expresses concerns about mercury emissions, which the letter said would be blown toward eastern Kansas.

Representatives from Hays-based Sunflower Electric Power Corp., which is proposing to build the approximately $5 billion project, did not have a representative at Tuesday’s meeting. But the company’s president and CEO, L. Earl Watkins Jr., sent a letter responding to many of the city’s concerns.

Watkins said it was unfair of people to oppose the plant based on its carbon dioxide emissions because they are not regulated by federal or state law. He also said mercury emissions would be 79 percent less than what is allowed under the federal Clean Air Act.

“If Lawrence supports the economic development of western Kansas, surely it is not appropriate for your community to work against those who live hundreds of miles from you in 34 Western Kansas counties, whose democratically elected representatives on our rural electric cooperative boards have unanimously approved the decision to build this project,” he wrote.

Two members of the public spoke to commissioners Tuesday night, and both urged the city to send the letter.

“You have a chance to let KDHE know that the coal rush has to come to a screeching halt in Kansas,” said Lawrence resident Carey Maynard-Moody.

The city’s letter will be considered by KDHE regulators, just like the more than 100 other people, governments and organizations that have commented on the plant.

For the complete text of the letter that city commissioners agreed to send to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment regarding the Holcomb power plant complex, Click here.