By EARL WATKINS
In light of recent media coverage about the Holcomb Expansion Project, I feel compelled to explain some unanswered questions regarding the permitting process:
* The Holcomb Expansion Project meets all state and federal requirements. Opponents would have you believe that by receiving an air permit in December from Democratic Governor Mark Parkinson's administration and by the recent KDHE stay in the 18-month construction commencement, Sunflower has somehow circumvented January 2011 requirements for greenhouse gas controls. What many people don't understand is that there is no commercial equipment available to control GHGs; there is no "widget" to purchase and install. Instead, the requirement is now for emission sources (not just electric utilities) to implement the Best Available Control Technology (BACT) process, a five-step analysis in which proposed emission sources analyze the source based on consideration of energy, environmental, and economic impacts to ensure the most current, cost-effective commercial control technology is implemented. Facts are that regulating GHGs under the Clean Air Act will slow US investment and job growth and have no significant impact on reducing global GHG emissions because of the unrelenting construction of new coal plants in China, India and Europe.
* Since the CAA already requires new projects to use the most current commercial control technology, the Holcomb Expansion Project, along with every other new project in the nation, is designed to use the best technology available. Thus, an additional BACT analysis for GHG will not change the unit or improve its efficiency or its emission performance but will only be an unnecessary cost for 400,000 people in central and western Kansas.
* Opponents would also have you believe that Sunflower's responses to public comments about the Holcomb Expansion Project were not handled correctly. People uninformed of Kansas law or those who wish to misconstrue what it says have labeled this as a "cozy relationship" between Sunflower and KDHE. In fact, by regulation at least 13 states require that the permitting agency consider the applicant's response to public comment prior to the permit decision. In Kansas this is implicit rather than explicit because Kansas law states that upon review of the permit by the Court of Appeals, "all responses by the applicant or permit holder to any written comments or testimony" are to be considered along with comments from the agency and the public. This is a logical step because the applicant, as well as the agency, is expected by the Court to have the most knowledge about the project. We owe it to our members and those they serve to go on record to publicly defend this project against some of the outrageous and misleading "facts" said in public comment.
* Approximately 6,000 public comments were submitted to KDHE about the Holcomb Expansion Project; however, many comments were repetitive, and only about 230 comments were directed toward those subjects over which the Bureau of Air has any jurisdiction.
As the applicant, Sunflower responded to these comments and submitted them to KDHE in anticipation of litigation. KDHE then reviewed Sunflower's responses, incorporating those comments with which it concurred, in whole or in part, into its own Responsiveness Summary. Again, this is standard procedure and is the same process we followed in 2007 when KDHE was under the direction of Democratic Governor Sebelius and KDHE Secretary Bremby. Sunflower did not organize the KDHE responses. Rather, the responses were organized by the agency to fulfill its comment-response obligations under the law. Sunflower staff merely organized our comments to be consistent with the KDHE organization already determined.
* KDHE recently granted Sunflower's request to stay the 18-month commence construction deadline. While the stay is the original issuance in Kansas, other states have granted stays in similar situations (and remember, no new coal plant has been constructed in Kansas since 1983, so the need for a stay to defend a construction air permit has not been needed for the last 30 years). The stay is fair to both parties as it allows the Sierra Club to pursue its legal right to contest the permit but doesn't impede Sunflower's legal right to construct the plant once the Court rules on the case.¬ The stay decision allows the outcome of the project to be decided on the merits of the case currently in the hands of the Supreme Court, not by a timeframe that expires due to our opponent's tactics to halt construction through litigation delays.
* Environmental extremist groups — like the Sierra Club and their legal arm, Earthjustice — view rising electric bills as a way to curtail your energy use regardless of the direct correlation demonstrated in economic studies between the cost of energy, economic growth and health and, thus, in the overall quality of life. As a not-for-profit cooperative, we recognize that many people in our service territory have limited income, so it has always been our mission to pursue reliable energy sources at the most affordable cost while complying fully with environmental requirements. The Holcomb Expansion Project, as a future piece of our diversified generation portfolio, remains in the best interest of those we serve.
Thank you to our supporters who understand the necessity of a diverse generation mix — particularly one with adequate baseload energy — and who understand the statewide economic necessity of bringing this state-of-the-art project to Kansas.
Watkins is Sunflower president and CEO. Email him at email@example.com.