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Electric Co-op Sues Kansas Governor Over Coal Plant Denial

HAYS, Kansas, November 18, 2008 (ENS) – Sunflower Electric Power Corporation today filed a lawsuit in federal court against Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius and other state officials over the denial of an air quality permit for the expansion of the cooperative’s coal-fired power plant at Holcomb Station in Finney County.

The October 2007 decision to deny the air quality permit for two proposed 700 megawatt units was the first in the United States to do so on the grounds that the carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal to generate electricity would contribute to global warming.

The lawsuit asserts that the officials violated Sunflower’s right to fair and equal treatment under the law and are unlawfully prohibiting interstate commerce.

Named in the lawsuit in addition to Sebelius, are Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson and Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment Roderick Bremby.

The lawsuit asks the court to order that these three officials be stopped from preventing the regional wholesale power supplier from pursuing the expansion.

Sunflower operates a 1,257 MW system of wind, gas, and coal-based generating plants and a 2,300-mile transmission system for the needs of its six member cooperatives who serve more than 400,000 customers living in central and western Kansas.

Earl Watkins, president and CEO of Sunflower, said today, “In denying the air permit, the administration has discriminated against 400,000 Kansans and over 1.5 million citizens from other states who will be forced to pay the price of this decision for decades to come through higher electric rates. We believe we have an obligation to act on behalf of the people we serve and to correct this wrong.”

Watkins contends that Bremby denied Sunflower the permit required for construction of two new coal-fired electric generating units although carbon dioxide is not currently regulated in Kansas or the United States.

Watkins complains that Bremby continues to issue permits to emit carbon dioxide but has not defined what constitutes an acceptable level of carbon dioxide, only that the amount associated with Sunflower’s expansion project is “too much.”


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

“Sunflower’s permit application satisfied all KDHE rules and regulations governing the air permit process. The KDHE technical staff recommended to the secretary that the permit be approved, yet Secretary Bremby denied the permit,” Watkins said.

“Sunflower’s permit application is the only one – out of thousands of such applications since 2003 – that the KDHE has denied. This is unfair and a violation of rights guaranteed to Sunflower by the U.S. Constitution,” Watkins said.

Three legislative attempts by the Republican controlled Statehouse to approve the two new coal-fired units have been vetoed by Governor Sebelius.

In an open letter to Kansans issued on October 25, 2007, Governor Sebelius justified her support of Bremby’s decision, which has been controversial since it was announced.

“This decision will not only preserve Kansans’ health and uphold our moral obligation to be good stewards of this beautiful land, but will also enhance our prospects for strong and sustainable economic growth throughout our state,” Sebelius said.

“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. Kansas has great opportunities in clean energy and alternative fuels.”

“Only 15 percent of the energy produced in the remaining two plants would be used in Kansas; the remaining 85 percent would be sold to Colorado and Texas,” the governor said. “So Kansans would have 15 percent of the energy and 100 percent of the pollution and environmental impact of 11 million new tons of CO2 each year. That is the equivalent of putting nearly two million new cars on Kansas roads in one year.”

Watkins argues that it is not against Kansas or U.S. law to export products, including electricity, and the administration continues to promote exports of electricity generated by wind and other Kansas products. “It is, however, against the law to interfere with interstate commerce,” he said today.

“In a time of economic downturn, it seems unconscionable that a project like this would be denied since it creates 329 jobs earning more than $16 million in annual wages and fully complies with all state and federal requirements while helping to secure our energy independence,” Watkins said.

He says that today’s new technologies have resulted in 70 percent fewer emissions for a new coal plant than a coal plant coming online in 1980, adding, “The Holcomb Expansion Project, as designed, will be the cleanest plant in the region with regulated emissions that are 90 percent less than the average coal plant in the U.S. generating fleet.”

Governor Sebelius said in her open letter that throughout the nation, “there is a growing recognition of the harm caused by carbon.”

More than a dozen states, including Oklahoma, Florida and Texas have decided, in the last 18 months, not to build new coal plants, she pointed out.

In April 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to determine the effects of carbon, and stated that the agency had the authority to impose regulations on the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, emitted by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal. No such regulations have yet been imposed.

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