No. 2: Court reverses KDHE decision on Sunflower permit

12/31/2013

Editor's Note:This is the ninth in a series of stories featuring The Telegram's top 10 news stories for 2013.

Editor's Note:This is the ninth in a series of stories featuring The Telegram's top 10 news stories for 2013.

By ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.com

Plans for a new coal-fired power plant in Holcomb hit another bump in the road as they were squelched by the Kansas Supreme Court in October.

The Kansas Supreme Court's reversal of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment's decision to issue a permit for what would have been Sunflower Electric Power Corp.'s second plant near Holcomb is the No. 2 story of 2013, as voted on by The Telegram staff.

In the ruling, justices found that in KDHE's issuance of the permit, new emission standards from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which were in place at the time of the permit's issuance, weren't accounted for.

The ruling meant that Sunflower's permit request had to be sent back to the KDHE for greater scrutiny of the new standards before they are able to grant the permit.

Local officials were disappointed with the decision and the resulting delay it will mean for the $2.2 billion project, which would have added another 895-megawatt coal-fired plant and more than 200 new jobs.

According to the Associated Press, environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, brought the case to the Kansas Supreme Court, claiming the permitting process was flawed.

At the time, Holcomb Mayor Gary Newman said that Sunflower put a lot of effort into showing the KDHE, the state and the federal government that the carbon dioxide footprint could be controlled.

Newman also expressed disappointment because of the potential economic impact the additional plant could have on the state and the partnership that could be created with Colorado, as 75 percent of the new plant's output would have gone to Colorado-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.

"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," Newman said.

Newman also expressed concerns about whether Sunflower can afford to move forward with the project while meeting the 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."

Matt Allen, Garden City city manager, was also disappointed in the court's decision. It set back Sunflower's ability to build a base load generation plant in Finney County, Allen said at the time, something he believes 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 firsthand," Allen said.

Lona DuVall, president of the Finney County Economic Development Corp., said at the time that the decision creates another hurdle for the company to overcome.

"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.

She also countered the argument opponents made that most of the power generated by a second plant wouldn't even be used in 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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