A Step Forward for Dirty Coal in Kansas, But a Cool New Way to Fight it

When does a bad idea become worse? When it gets one step closer to reality.

That’s the case with the proposed ‘Sunflower’ coal-fired power plant in Kansas. Just last week, the state Department of Health and Environment issued a draft air permit for this nearly 900 megawatt behemoth.

If you want to know the details of why this is a bad idea, and why clean energy would be a much better idea, local advocates have developed a very cool new web site/tool www.rethinkrepowerks.org that contrasts the construction of the dirty plant with investments in clean energy.

The site has four tabs at the top: Job growth, health effects, economic impact and energy output. If you click on any of these in a year picked from the sliding timeline, you’ll get a side-by-side display contrasting the impacts of the coal plant against wind and natural gas. The graphics are cool and easy to read. I’ve never seen a coal plant challenge site that's so easy to use with such a clear display of contrasting information.

The great thing about this new site is it’s essentially a template that can be lifted and used in battles against other proposed dirty coal plants in other states.

The site was developed by the Great Plains Alliance for Clean Energy (GPACE), a Kansas non-profit. And it's creation was timely: the public comment for the draft air permit period lasts until August 15. After that the state or EPA can deny the permit. We hope they do.

Because a lot of things don’t make sense about this proposed huge dirty coal plant. First, it’s proposed for Western Kansas, but 80 percent of the power would be shipped out of state to Colorado. So Kansas gets the pollution, and Colorado get’s the power. What’s more, water from Kansas aquifers would cool the plant, even though Kansas and Colorado have been fighting legal battles over water rights for decades.

The vast majority of the power produced by the plant would be purchased by Tri-State Generation and Transmission, based in Colorado. But the plant would be developed by the Kansas-based Sunflower Rural Electric Cooperative.

Funny thing is, Tri-State has publicly stated it does not anticipate construction starting on the plant (if it’s permitted) until at least 2016. And Tri-State’s own resource planning shows no need for coal-fired base load capacity until 2026 at the earliest.

Yet the CEO of Sunflower says the plant will be built by 2016. Go figure.

Any way you look at it, this is an un-needed dinosaur that greedy Sunflower executives only want because it would add a multi-billion dollar asset to their toy chest. Problem is, the financial risks and almost certain rate hikes related to pollution costs and construction cost overruns will likely be passed on to Kansas rate-payers, while most of the power would theoretically be shipped out of state.

And finally, the construction of excess coal-fired generation capacity to send coal-generated electricity to Colorado will almost certainly retard wind development in Kansas. Both wind and natural gas power capacity at the same level as the proposed coal plant would get permitted and built (and put Kansans to work) prior to 2016.  

This plant is a bad idea, but fortunately a good one has come out of the process, this cool new tool to help fight dirty coal plants nationally.