Sunflower giving it another try

1/18/2014

KDHE opens public comment period on permit addendum.

KDHE opens public comment period on permit addendum.

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

Another attempt to push an 895-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Holcomb through the permitting process took a step forward Thursday when the Kansas Department of Health and Environment announced the start of a public comment period on an addendum to the construction permit issued to Sunflower Electric in 2010.

KDHE is accepting public comments about the addendum from now through Feb. 19. A public hearing concerning the addendum is scheduled for 5 p.m. Feb. 19 at Garden City High School.

The addendum addresses a Kansas Supreme Court decision last October that sent the permit back to KDHE to apply one-hour federal air quality emission standards for nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide, and new air emission limits before granting the permit.

The addendum essentially says the things the court asked for in October have been done.

Miranda Steele, KDHE spokesperson, said the addendum covers two main parts of regulatory items. One is the nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide one-hour rules for National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

"When we issued the permit back in 2010, we did require the modeling for these requirements during the application process to make sure the new standards at the time would be met. We included the action levels for these standards in the permit," Steele said.

However, the court ruled KDHE needed to be more specific about that part, she said.

The court also ruled KDHE needed to apply Hazardous Air Pollutants emission limits, which Steele said are fairly new requirements not implemented in 2010, to the Holcomb plant. The HAP rules cover new coal- and oil-fired electric utility steam generating units greater than 25 megawatts constructed after May 2011.

The overall power plant permit is not up for public comment, only the addendum.

"Basically, the addendum is consistent with the Supreme Court ruling," Steele said.

In its addendum summary, KDHE indicated the air quality impact analysis indicates "if new modeling was conducted using current EPA requirements and recommendations, the impacts on ambient air quality would be lower than that already determined acceptable in the 2010 modeling."

Construction of a second generator at Sunflower's Holcomb plant was blocked in 2007. Kansas became the first state to deny a building permit because of health concerns about greenhouse gases, according to an October Associated Press report.

A 2009 settlement agreement between then Gov. Mark Parkinson and Sunflower allowed the permitting process to begin again. In December 2010, the KDHE approved the building permit for the plant, which was estimated to cost as much as $3 billion to construct. The Sierra Club then filed suit in 2011.

Cindy Hertel, Sunflower Electric's communications manager in Hays, issued a statement from the company saying the addendum "validates that the Holcomb Expansion air quality construction permit meets all applicable environmental regulations."

"Sunflower is pleased that the Holcomb Expansion Project remains a possible option for meeting the reliable, affordable power requirements of our cooperative members and those they serve. As always, Sunflower will continue to evaluate the project at every stage and will only advance the project if it remains in the best interest of our members," the statement read.

The court case was prompted by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups who claimed that the permitting process was flawed. They argued that the KDHE took shortcuts for political reasons, and that members of the environmental groups have been or would be harmed by the plant's emissions.

Holly Bender, deputy director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign, issued a statement Thursday calling the addendum "weak," and indicated it does little to fix what was wrong with the original permit. Bender said the addendum does not adequately outline how the Holcomb plant could operate without releasing toxic levels of mercury, lung-damaging sulfur dioxide, and other pollutants.

"At a time when every state is finding ways to cut carbon emissions from power plants, KDHE is giving Sunflower every opportunity to build a boondoggle coal plant that will release a glut of carbon into the atmosphere daily," she said. "This addendum is just another slick maneuver from Sunflower to try to avoid complying with new and vital carbon standards on new coal-fired power plants. The clean energy economy grows every day in Kansas, making it easier to leave the dirty Holcomb coal plant in the dust."

Holcomb Mayor Gary Newman wouldn't be surprised if the permit goes back through the courts again, but he hopes it doesn't.

"I'm sure they'll make an attempt to block it through the court system again, but I think Sunflower and KDHE have done their due diligence to research the standards that are required by law. If they're willing to file that addendum and move forward after everything they've already been through, it says a lot about the project," Newman said.

Newman, a strong supporter of the project, said the plant stands to create more than 200 new full and part-time jobs, providing a huge economic boost to Holcomb and the area. While he is disappointed that the Sierra Club has taken the permitting process through the court system, Newman is optimistic.

"I'm very pleased KDHE is willing to put it forward again and go through the process. We'll be at the public hearing to make comments," he said.

KDHE is accepting comments on the permit addendum from now through Feb. 19. Comments may be submitted in three ways:

* Mail to Christy Thurman, KDHE Bureau of Air, 1000 SW Jackson, Suite 310, Topeka, KS 66612-1366.

* Email to SunflowerComments@kdheks.gov.

* Presented in person, either orally or in writing, during a public hearing at 5 p.m. Feb. 19 at the Garden City High School Auditorium, 2720 Buffalo Way Blvd.

A copy of the permit and proposed addendum, all supporting documentation, and all information relied upon during the review process are available for public review in two locations: 1000 SW Jackson, Suite 310 in Topeka, and at the KDHE Southwest District Office, 302 West McArtor Road in Dodge City.

In Topeka, contact Linda Vandevord at the KDHE central office at (785) 296-6423, and in Dodge City, contact Erich Glave, District Environmental Administrator in the KDHE Southwest District Office, at (620) 225-0596.¬ The standard departmental cost will be assessed for any copies requested.¬ 

These materials are also available, free of charge, at the KDHE Bureau of Air website: http://www.kdheks.gov/bar/publicnotice.html.

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