Kansas Sticks to Dangerous Path to Build Expensive Coal Plant

KDHE gives Sunflower the green light to build new coal plant at Holcomb, ignoring pollution and rising costs


Amanda Goodin, (206) 343-7340, ext. 1020


Emily Rosenwasser, Sierra Club, (312) 251-2680, ext. 119

Today, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) signed off on what promises to become Kansas’ most expensive power plant if the project proponent, Sunflower Electric Cooperative, chooses to risk moving ahead with the plant despite a long list of remaining hurdles. KDHE’s permit addendum for the proposed coal plant comes after the Kansas Supreme Court unanimously decided last year that the original permit was flawed. That case was brought by Sierra Club, which was represented by Earthjustice.

“The rest of the country is moving forward, but KDHE is stuck in reverse,” said Amanda Goodin, an attorney with Earthjustice who represents the Sierra Club. “All over the country, states are taking advantage of natural resources like wind energy—which Kansas has in abundance. But KDHE and Sunflower are dragging Kansas backwards, burdening the state with a costly, dirty, outdated coal plant that will cover Kansas in a blanket of pollution. KDHE needs to move forward into the 21st century if it wants to create new jobs and allow the state to grow and thrive.”

The Kansas Supreme Court remanded the permit to KDHE in October 2013, citing the agency’s unlawful decision to ignore new, more protective standards for air pollutants that the Holcomb plant would emit. But several months later, KDHE proposed to reissue the permit virtually unchanged, without addressing the specific legal flaws identified by the Supreme Court.

“Sunflower is out of step with the rest of Kansas,” said Bill Griffith with the Sierra Club’s Kansas Chapter. “We just had the fight of our lives to protect our job-creating clean energy standards, we passed a law to encourage utilities to reduce consumption through energy efficiency programs, and KDHE now faces the critical task of reducing Kansas’ carbon pollution. Sunflower can’t seem to hear the message that a new coal plant doesn’t have a place here in Kansas.”

The proposed plant is estimated to cost around $3 billion for only 895 megawatts of new generation. Sunflower is still deeply in debt to the federal government for its last overpriced coal plant, and has gotten a huge debt write-off from the federal government because it’s last bad coal investment didn’t pencil out. The huge price tag of the new plant means that if Sunflower’s gamble doesn’t pay off, ratepayers in Kansas will be stuck picking up the tab.

“Sunflower’s member cooperatives should be furious,” said Holly Bender, Deputy Director with Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “Sunflower’s mission says it’s committed to least-cost power, yet its board is lusting after a coal plant that guarantees to dramatically raise the cost of power for anyone it contracts with. I have no doubt that Sunflower’s Board is setting its member coops up for huge rate increases.”

The proposed coal plant, also known as Holcomb 2, is the most intensely contested coal plant in Kansas history, as well as one of the most controversial permits ever considered by KDHE. 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.

“Colorado has stepped up to the plate and made a commitment to clean energy,” added Nellis-Kennedy Howard, a Senior Campaign Representative with Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. "Colorado expanded its Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) for electric cooperatives like Tri-State, which will now procure new clean energy to meet growing demand. Buying into a new coal plant doesn’t fit into the direction Tri-State is heading and puts customers at risk of rate shock given the high costs of new coal plants Tri-State’s own statements indicate that it has no need for the Holcomb plant for the foreseeable future.”

Tri-State’s new focus on renewable energy is not the only hurdle that remains for the troubled Holcomb project. The United States Department of Agriculture must give Sunflower approval to move ahead with the project before construction can start. That approval must include an environmental review process that has not yet commenced.

KDHE’s announcement comes just days before EPA is scheduled to announce groundbreaking new rules to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The Holcomb plant’s carbon emissions put it on a collision course with these new rules. Over the next few years, KDHE will work to draft a plan to reduce Kansas’ carbon pollution from power plants as required by proposed Clean Air Act requirements.

Wind turbines at Beaumont, Kansas.
Wind turbines at Beaumont, Kansas. The proposed Holcomb 2 coal plant is the most intensely contested coal plant in Kansas history. Tri-State’s new focus on renewable energy is just one of the hurdles remaining for the troubled Holcomb project. (Photo courtesy of Joseph Novak)

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