Compromise Reached on Coal-Fired Plant for Sunflower

Governor, Sunflower CEO announce agreement to allow 895-megawatt plant

After two years of wrangling, Gov. Mark Parkinson and Sunflower Electric Power Corp. CEO Earl Watkins announced today that they have reached an agreement that will allow the construction of one new 895-megawatt coal-fired plant near Holcomb.

Sunflower and its partner, Tri-State Electric Cooperative out of Colorado, had hoped to build two 700-megawatt plants. But Kansas Secretary of Health and Environment, Rod Bremby, denied an air permit based on carbon dioxide emissions from the plant, which he said represented an "imminent health risk" to Kansans.

The Legislature attempted twice last year and once this year to draft legislation allowing the project to be built, but Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed all three bills. The Senate had enough votes to override while the House was short one or two votes.

Sebelius was sworn in as U.S. Secretary and Health and Human Services last week and Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson became governor. At a Monday afternoon press conference, Parkinson and Watkins acknowledged that neither had the power to get all they wanted -- Sunflower did not have the votes to override the veto and Parkinson was short the votes to pass an energy bill if it did not contain a provision allowing Sunflower to build.

The great news in the agreement is that the provision for new high-voltage transmission lines and an inter-connect to the western power grid are still part of the package as is the development of an integrated bioenergy park that includes the construction of an algae farm to capture carbon dioxide and grow algae for biodiesel production.

The coal-fired plant in western Kansas provides the best imaginable bridge to a new generation of renewable energy. It upgrades today's technology to newer, better, cleaner coal-fired generation and provides the revenue to invest in exploration of new, renewable technology for the future. And it provides the infrastructure to help wind development flourish in western Kansas. Best of all, the investment is in private dollars not taxpayer subsidies.

It is unfortunate that political posturing prevented this from happening last year, which would mean hundreds of jobs in western Kansas would be opening up about now just as manufacturing layoffs are reaching their zenith.

As it stands, groundbreaking -- and the hundreds of new jobs it will bring to Kansas -- are a year or more away. But something is better than nothing. Certainly, this is a victory for rural Kansas.

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