The D.C. Circuit Court today dismissed an appeal by Sunflower Electric of a ruling requiring environmental review of Sunflower’s proposed new coal plant in Holcomb, Kansas. The decision lets stand a district court ruling that the U.S. government violated the law by allowing Sunflower to proceed with the polluting and financially risky plant without first examining its environmental effects and alternative actions.
“As of today, the Sunflower coal plant cannot be built,” said Amanda Goodin, an attorney with Earthjustice representing the Sierra Club in court. “Until the plant receives a full environmental review, this unnecessary, money-losing pollution project is done.”
New clean air and public health standards adopted since the project was first proposed will make it difficult for the expansion plant to secure financial backing, given lack of demand for additional coal-fired electricity generation in the region. Sunflower Electric remains hundreds of millions of dollars in debt to the federal government for taxpayer-supported loans taken out to build the existing coal plant at Holcomb Station.
If built, the new plant would release thousands of pounds of toxic pollution in Kansas while the power it generates would belong to Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a Colorado-based utility. According to Tri-State’s 2012 resource plan on file with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, the utility is unlikely to ever need any power from the new plant, making the plant an unnecessary and a risky investment.
“Coal in Holcomb is already a proven financial loser,” said Sunil Bector, an attorney with the Sierra Club. “Given Sunflower’s massive debt and precarious financial situation, it can’t possibly finance this new coal plant without putting ratepayers and American taxpayers at further risk.”
The proposed plant would emit massive amounts of air pollutants, including mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, and particulate matter. Kansas is already making important strides to develop clean energy like wind. Last year, Kansas doubled its installed wind capacity and led the nation for the most wind installed in the third quarter of 2012. The state benefits from wind manufacturing by way of the Siemens component plant in Hutchinson, KS.
“As of now, the Holcomb coal-fired power plant is just a mirage on the Plains,” said Craig Volland, Air Quality Chair of the Kansas Chapter. “The power from this plant would pollute Kansas communities while sending the power to TriState in Colorado. With commitments to wind energy on the rise in Kansas along with much improved transmission facilities, Sunflower Electric should leave plans for Holcomb II in the past and double down on clean energy."
In the original lawsuit, Sierra Club showed that the Rural Utilities Service (RUS), a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provided extensive financial support—including writing off hundreds of millions of dollars of public debt—so that Sunflower could build the new power plant. These agreements left the RUS with close oversight of Sunflower’s business operations and required federal approval to proceed with the Holcomb project.
Much of Sunflower’s financial struggles stem from overbuilding capacity at their existing unit, Holcomb I, which is a scenario that could be repeated if Holcomb II is constructed since neither Sunflower nor Tri-State, the Colorado partner, has demonstrated the project is needed. The lawsuit argued that, as an essentially federal project, greater environmental review and consideration of alternatives—like greater conservation and renewables—is required.