Sunflower Electric Power Corporation is again applying for a permit to expand its generating station at Holcomb.
The Sunflower application follows an agreement reached last year between the utility and Governor Mark Parkinson, who supported development of the plant to secure passage by the Legislature of renewable energy measures.
The air permit application for expansion was rejected by KDHE in 2007 due to the harm that the facility's carbon dioxide emissions would cause to the climate. It was the first permit in the United States to be rejected on these grounds.
After the initial permit was rejected, former Governor Kathleen Sebelius repeatedly vetoed legislation that would have allowed the Sunflower expansion anyway, stating that renewable energy was a better alternative for Kansas.
Staff at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment's Bureau of Air now are reviewing the revised permit application to ensure that they meet Kansas air quality requirements, a review that could take from three to six months, a time period typical for the permitting process.
During this time, KDHE staff, along with Sunflower Electric, will be coordinating with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address any federal requirements.
Sunflower employees pose for the camera in front of the existing coal-fired power plant in Holcomb, Kansas. (Photo courtesy Sunflower Electric)
Upon completion of the review, the permit will be drafted and made available for public comment during a series of public hearings. After the public comment period, KDHE said today it "will address any concerns and make revisions as necessary to prepare the permit for final issuance."
Environmentalists are still opposed to any new coal-fired power plant construction.
"While we are looking over this new application, we are still convinced that locking Kansas into another 50 years of dirty, polluting coal energy is the wrong choice for our state. Our state is perfectly positioned to develop its abundant clean energy resources that can help solve global warming and create thousands of new family-supporting jobs," said Stephanie Cole of Sierra Club, Kansas.
Cole argues that Sunflower has not proven the need for this electricity in Kansas. Activists are concerned that the power would be largely exported to suburban development interests in Colorado. "Kansans get the pollution, Colorado gets the power," said Cole.
The environmentalists point out that Sunflower still owes around $200 million in taxpayer dollars to the Rural Utilities Service for its previous coal plant, and Sunflower is currently facing a legal challenge because the federal government cannot lawfully allow Sunflower to proceed with the expansion without examining its environmental impacts.
"This polluting coal plant shouldn't be built," said attorney Amanda Goodin of the public interest law firm Earthjustice. "The costs of building new coal plants have risen enormously since this project was first proposed. Better energy efficiency and improvements in managing energy demand have reduced the need for big new coal plants."
A legal filing from Earthjustice and the Sierra Club in 2009 states that Sunflower Electric has a history ofracking up public debt that never gets paid back.
"Sunflower already owes the federal government hundreds of millions of dollars for past coal energy plants and the government can't legally allow Sunflower to proceed with the plant without first considering the environmental harm it will cause," said Goodin.
Earthjustice has argued that the new facility would be a large contributor to global warming through its carbon emissions, and other dangerous pollutants, such as fine particulate matter.
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