The Garden City Telegram
6/6/2014
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Power jolt:Sunflower plan has place in diverse energy future.

It's been a seemingly never-ending roller-coaster ride for the proposed Sunflower Electric Power Corp. plant expansion at Holcomb.

Court challenges over emissions and other protests have brought plenty of pitfalls for a project that would deliver an 895-megawatt, coal-fired power plant at the Holcomb station, a needed venture in meeting future energy needs in an affordable way.

In 2010, Sunflower succeeded in securing a construction permit from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE). But in 2013, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled it didn't account for new emission standards from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Fast forward to a week ago Friday, when the KDHE gave the expansion plan a thumbs-up through approval of an addendum that essentially says new standards addressed by the state Supreme Court have been met.

But it wasn't long before another roadblock threatened a project that would generate increased power-producing capacity and a huge shot of economic development.

Three days after the KDHE announcement, the EPA issued new regulations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Specifically, the EPA now wants carbon-dioxide emissions from existing power plants nationwide to drop 30 percent from their 2005 levels by 2030. States will be given some flexibility in meeting the new goals.

It was more proof of efforts to wean the nation off coal-fired power, especially as wind and other energy alternatives gain steam.

But is it necessary to pull the plug on coal?

No, and the better coal-fired power plants — the Holcomb station included — warrant a place in the diverse energy portfolio of the future.

Utilities will need time to digest how new EPA rules would affect existing plant operations. Moving forward, let's hope Sunflower receives credit for a commitment to reducing its carbon footprint, to include plans to pursue carbon mitigation technologies that represent the kind of innovation the state and nation should support.

A number of coal-fired plants do indeed have serious emissions issues. Sunflower, on the other hand, has long been considered a model in addressing energy needs in a responsible and affordable way — which is why the proposed expansion plan still has merit.