Local officials react to Kansas court's Sunflower decision

10/5/2013

By SCOTT AUST

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

Local officials contacted Friday afternoon struggled to interpret the impact of the Kansas Supreme Court reversal of a state agency's decision to issue a permit for a new Sunflower Electric power plant in Holcomb, but the consensus was one of major disappointment.

Holcomb Mayor Gary Newman was disappointed and frustrated with the decision, which will cause yet more delay for the project and its anticipated economic benefit for Holcomb.

Holcomb is home to an existing Sunflower power plant. The $2.2 billion project would add another 895-megawatt coal-fired plant and create more than 200 new full- and part-time jobs.

Newman said he hasn't spoken to Sunflower as of late Friday afternoon, but has concerns about how Sunflower will be able to afford to move forward with the project while meeting new requirements.

"I think the EPA has overstepped their boundaries. They make these decisions, these business-crippling regulations, that our own elected officials don't have the ability to create," he said. "It's kind of frustrating."

Newman said it's like they're talking in circles — the federal government says it wants to lessen dependency on foreign oil but doesn't want to take advantage of sources of energy or new job opportunities domestically.

"Sunflower put a lot of effort into it, and they went out of their way to show state government, KDHE, even the EPA that this plant would be cutting-edge, and the carbon dioxide footprint could be controlled," Newman said.

At one point they had a bio-energy plant that would capture the few pollutants that would have been put into the air, Newman said.

"But most importantly, look at the economic impact to the state with the partnership we would have been able to create with Colorado," he said. "It's just disappointing. The Sierra Club has deep pockets and they were able to use those deep pockets to persuade another entity that this wasn't the right thing. They've got no working knowledge of what's going on out here."

About 75 percent of the new Holcomb plant's output would have gone to Colorado-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.

Matt Allen, Garden City city manager, said he's disappointed with the court's decision to the degree that it sets back Sunflower's ability to build a base load generation plant in Finney County, something he said is definitely needed.

"We're still very supportive. There is an absolute need for base load power generation in this country and in western Kansas. And without it, prices will continue to go up. We've experienced that first-hand," he said.

Lona DuVall, president of the Finney County Economic Development Corp., was also disappointed by the decision and said it creates another hurdle.

"Sunflower is going to continue to work with KDHE and try to meet the demands of the court, and we're certainly going to continue to be as supportive as we possibly can in their efforts to get the plant built," she said.

DuVall was incredulous about an argument opponents made that most of the power generated wouldn't even be used in Kansas, but would be exported from the state.

"By that logic then why would we grow so much corn and wheat? We certainly can't eat all that corn and wheat in Kansas either," she said. "Exporting product is a good thing, even if that product is electricity. It's frustrating, but we're going to continue to stand by Sunflower and fight the good fight with them."

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