Kansas Governor Rejects Two Coal-Fired Power Plants
TOPEKA, Kansas, March 21, 2008 (ENS) - Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius today vetoed legislation that would have overturned a decision of her administration to deny an permit application to build two new coal-fired power plants because of the greenhouse gases they would have produced. The measure passed without a veto-proof majority of state legislators.

Last October Secretary of Kansas Department of Health and Environment Rob Bremby denied a permit to regional wholesale power supplier Sunflower Electric Power Corporation to build two new power plants at its Holcomb Station in western Kansas.

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)

The bill Sebelius vetoed today would have permitted the power plants and stripped the state agency of the power to deny such permits in the future if they held utilities to standards stricter than those in the federal Clean Air Act.

"We know that greenhouse gases contribute to climate change," Sebelius said. "As an agricultural state, Kansas is particularly vulnerable. Therefore, reducing pollutants benefits our state not only in the short term but also for generations of Kansans to come."

"Of all the duties and responsibilities entrusted to me as governor, none is greater than my obligation to protect the health and well-being of the people of Kansas," Sebelius said. "And that is why I supported the decision of the Secretary of Kansas Department of Health and Environment regarding Kansas' energy future. For that reason, I must veto House Substitute for SB 327."

"Instead of building two new coal plants, which would produce 11 million new tons of carbon dioxide each year, I support pursuing other, more promising energy and economic development alternatives," the governor said.

"With the increasing pressure for the federal government to develop national standards for carbon emissions, there is a high probability coal will become a lot more expensive in the next several years," she said. "Countries throughout Europe and South America already have standards in place and states are following suit."

"Federal legislation has been introduced that would have the net impact of taxing carbon," Sebelius said. "If any of the proposals are adopted, utility companies and their customers will pay far more for energy which produces carbon. It will also require spending billions on equipment to clean the atmosphere as thoroughly as possible. Building additional coal plants now is likely to create a significant economic liability for Kansas in the future."

The utility contends that by not allowing the coal-fired plants to be built, the governor will make Kansans pay more for electricity.

"I am certainly disappointed by the governor's veto," said Earl Watkins, Sunflower's president and chief executive. "This compromise bill was the result of many months of hard work by Democrats and Republicans in both the House and the Senate. The legislation protects our environment, supports renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, and restores confidence in government."

If not resolved, this veto will unnecessarily raise electric rates for Kansas families and punish our Kansas workers and industries," Watkins said. "We are experiencing significant growth on the Sunflower system, and we must add new coal generation to support our existing natural gas and wind generation assets."

Sunflower's existing coal-fired power plant at Holcomb, Kansas (Photo courtesy Ohio Citizen Action)

Plans for the new Holcomb power plants included burning low-sulfur coal from Wyoming's Powder River Basin, state-of-the-art air emissions control technology, powdered activated carbon injection for mercury control, and no wastewater discharge.

But Sebelius said the bill she vetoed fails to promote wind power and "sends the wrong signal to potential investors for transmission lines and additional wind power."

"The renewable standard and timetable in this bill slows down the progress we have already made, and dilutes the voluntary agreement now in place with utility companies in Kansas," said the governor.

Earnie Lehman, president and chief executive of the utility Midwest Energy, said the veto will have a negative effect throughout the state.

"The governor's veto fails to meet our customers' need for reliable, efficient, and cost-effective around-the-clock energy," said Lehman. "Midwest Energy's leadership in securing wind energy and expanding energy efficiency and conservation programs is simply not enough to meet our consumers' energy needs."

Sunflower's only coal-fired power plant is at Holcomb Station. Watkins said, "This station serves about 50 percent of our peak load and already has the lowest emissions rate of carbon dioxide and all regulated emissions of any coal-fired plant in Kansas."

As a compromise, Governor Sebelius offered approval of a permit for one smaller coal-fired power plant, combined with mitigation strategies and additional wind power as long as the power it generates serves Kansas customers first.

"We believe that any proposal to generate significant amounts of new carbon needs to have an accompanying offset plan, recognizing that we are at least a decade away from clean coal technology," Sebelius said.

The smaller project provides the base load power needed in western Kansas so that economic growth can continue, while allowing time for Kansas to engage in a process underway or completed in 36 other states that would allow our state to develop real and meaningful carbon regulations.

Once those state regulations have been adopted and implemented, applications for additional power plants could be fully considered, the governor said.

Today she issued an Executive Order creating the Kansas Energy and Environmental Policy Advisory Group to engage in "a comprehensive discussion on energy policy, including but not limited to electric generation."

Sebelius named Jack Pelton, chairman, president and chief executive of Cessna Aircraft Company, to lead this group, which will develop recommendations to the governor involving opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as a recommended timetable for implementation.

The process will be facilitated by the Center for Climate Strategie, which has developed climate action plans in: Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Colorado, Washington, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Vermont. State plans are underway in South Carolina, Florida, Arkansas, Michigan, Maryland, and Alaska.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.