Thursday, December 16, 2010

Kansas OKs permit for long-debated coal plant

UPDATE, July 6: "The company has only a year left to begin construction of its controversial coal-fired plant in western Kansas, but a legal challenge to the plant’s air-quality permit is blocking progress," the Kansas City Star reports. "Sunflower’s solution is an unusual one: Ask for a rare type of deadline extension." UPDATE, July 22: The extension was granted.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment today announced approval of a permit for a coal-fired power plant that has stirred years of debate among coal, environmental and electricity interests, including rural electric cooperatives.

Sunflower Electric Power Corp., comprising six rural electrics in western Kansas (co-op map; click for larger version), plans to sell much of the plant's power to Colorado utilities serving the metropolitan area of the Front Range. "Although the final permit is expected to face challenges from environmental groups and will be reviewed by U.S. EPA, today's decision clears the biggest procedural hurdle that had been standing in front of the 895-megawatt power plant," reports Gabriel Nelson of Environment and Energy News. "The permit is a defeat for groups that have made the Sunflower proposal a symbol of a national campaign against new coal-fired power plants."

Sunflower originally proposed three units with 2,100 megawatts, but then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius opposed it on grounds of air pollution and global warming. When fellow Democrat Mark Parkinson succeeded her last year, he "struck a deal with Sunflower to allow the current proposal," Nelson notes. "EPA decided the change was significant enough that the whole permit needed to go back to the drawing board. It was the first time that a U.S. agency had delayed a new coal plant based on concerns that it could worsen the effects of climate change." Last month, Parkinson ousted the secretary of the department, a Sebelius appointee. The acting secretary said today that the plant's emissions would be about 40 percent less than Sunflower had proposed. (Read more, subscription required)

"Receiving an air-quality permit was a huge victory for Sunflower . . . because it comes just days before federal regulations take effect requiring more expensive technology to control greenhouse gases," Karen Dillon of the Kansas City Star reports.

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