Kansas Governor's Third Coal Plant Veto Sustained

TOPEKA, Kansas, May 1, 2008 (ENS) – Kansas will not have two new coal-fired power plants at Holcomb in the western part of the state. Late Thursday night, the Kansas House narrowly sustained the third veto of a bill to allow the plants by Governor Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat.

The vote in the House was 80-45, four votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to override the governor’s veto.

Closely watched as an indicator of the mood of the Midwest on coal power, the battle between the governor and the Republican controlled Statehouse over Sunflower Electric’s bid to expand its Holcomb Generating Station has absorbed much of this legislative session.

The fight began last October when Kansas Secretary of Health and Environment Rod Bremby denied an air quality permit needed to proceed with construction because the two proposed 700 megawatt units would emit too much of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

Sunflower Electric’s existing coal-fired power
plant at Holcomb, Kansas (Photo
courtesy Sunflower Electric)

It was the first denial of a coal power plant permit in the country based on climate change concerns.

Supporters of the new power plants in the Legislature passed a bill to allow the plants and strip the state agency of its power to block them. Governor Sebelius vetoed that bill and two more similar attempts.

Thursday night’s vote may put an end to the issue for this legislative session, which has already run over its April 30 limit, but it is possible that the House could attempt a second override of a similar coal bill rejected by Sebelius.

While Governor Sebelius called the vote, “good news for Kansas,” House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, a Republican, called it “a sad day for Kansas.”

“We are at a critical period for energy policy in this state and this country. We must bridge the gap between our growing energy needs, and the time when carbon capturing technology is a commercial reality,” the governor said. “We must move forward strategically – steering our state clear of the environmental, health and economic risks of massive new carbon emissions.”

Critics of the project also were concerned that 85 percent of the electricity produced by the two new coal-fired units would be sent to Colorado and Texas.

Sunflower Electric, based in Hays, Kansas, is developing the expansion project with Golden Spread Electric Cooperative of Texas and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association of Colorado.

Sunflower Electric President and CEO Earl Watkins vowed to continue efforts to expand Holcomb Station. “The majority of legislators recognize our project will be among the cleanest and most efficient coal plants in the nation and will provide affordable and reliable power to thousands of Kansas families,” he said Thursday night.

In lawsuits filed in the Kansas Court of Appeals and transferred to the Kansas Supreme Court, Sunflower and its member cooperatives argue that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the secretary had no authority under the law to deny the Holcomb Station expansion an air permit.

If the coal plant expansion does finally get the green light, environmental groups have said they will file lawsuits to block the development.

Governor Sebelius had offered to allow the construction of a single, smaller coal-fired power plant, but that proposal was not accepted by the power cooperatives.

“I continue to strongly oppose stripping the KDHE Secretary of his power to protect the health and environment of Kansans,” the governor said on Wednesday.

“I also remain opposed to putting the regulatory permitting process into the hands of a part-time Legislature whose membership changes every two years,” she said. “It sets a dangerous precedent and clearly puts us out of step with the rest of the country. The Kansas Legislature is proposing to put itself in the middle of the regulatory permitting process in a manner not found in any other state in the union.”

The governor said Thursday night that she is still “ready and willing to work with all of the energy producers in Kansas to find that common ground on which true progress can be built.”

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