Proposed power plants face criticism

Facilities would help economy, but some say environment would suffer

? A proposed $3.6 billion coal-fired electric project in western Kansas would cause health and environmental problems for generations to come, opponents of the facility said Thursday.

“We don’t need these outdated, pollution-generating plants,” Sarah Dean of Jefferson County said.

But executives of Sunflower Electric Power Corp. said the 2,100-megawatt project near Holcomb complied with all environmental rules and would help the economy.

“We need the power and we need the economic stimulus that will result from this project in rural Kansas,” said Earl Watkins, president and chief executive officer of Sunflower Electric.

Testimony from both sides of the issue was taken by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, which will decide whether Hays-based Sunflower Electric gets a permit to build the project.

Nearly 100 people attended the hearing, most of them opposed to Sunflower Electric’s plan to build three 700-megawatt, coal-fired electric plants at the site where the company already operates a 700-megawatt plant.

If built, the project would increase electric capacity in Kansas by about one-third. But under the proposal, most of the power generated by the plants will be sold to customers in other states, with much of it being exported to Colorado.

The project would produce 14 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, which Dean and other opponents said would increase respiratory illnesses and add to global warming.

Public hearing

Another public hearing on the proposal will take place at 6 p.m. Nov. 16 in Lawrence in the Malott Room of the Kansas Union, 1301 Jayhawk Blvd.
A public comment period on the proposal will run through Nov. 30. All comments should be submitted in writing to Rick Bolfing, KDHE Bureau of Air and Radiation, 1000 S.W. Jackson, Suite 310, Topeka 66612-1366, or presented at the hearings.

But Watkins and other Sunflower officials said the plant’s state-of-the-art technology would use coal more efficiently than older plants.

Elizabeth Schultz, a retired Kansas University English professor from Lawrence, said the project’s reliance on fossil fuels would delay development of alternative energy.

“Kansas has immense, free, clean and constantly renewable wind and solar resources that are largely untapped,” Schultz said.

Dan Nagengast of Lawrence, executive director of the Kansas Rural Center, agreed, saying, “Building excess, commercial coal-fired capacity takes our one renewable hope off the table for the rest of my lifetime and most of my children’s.”

Wes Jackson, president of the Land Institute in Salina, said Kansas should take a stand against the plant because of the effect of carbon dioxide on global warming.

“We should help lead the way precisely because we will not mine or drill our way out of our problem,” Jackson said.

He said conservation measures could reduce the need for the plants.

Sunflower executives said that carbon dioxide was not a regulated pollutant.

“I would say that when, and if, carbon dioxide becomes a regulated pollutant, we will comply with those laws that apply to our assets,” Watkins said.

Another concern raised by environmentalists is the emission of mercury from the plants. But Watkins said because of advanced technologies, mercury emissions wouldn’t increase.

Pumping water from the Ogallala aquifer for the power plants was also cited as a problem by environmentalists. The plants would need 29,000 acre feet of water per year, but Sunflower officials said that was a small fraction of the 2.1 million acre feet pumped annually, mostly for irrigation in the region.

Holcomb-area legislators and business interests urged acceptance of the project because they said it would provide needed electricity and construction jobs.

“We are looking at an economic boost for the western part of the state,” state Rep. Gary Hayzlett, R-Lakin, said.

Supporters of the project said it would provide 2,000 construction jobs and 400 permanent jobs, although a state report said the project would produce 140 permanent jobs.