Sunflower Electric, a regional wholesale power supplier owned by six rural cooperatives, is experiencing a growth spurt.
In addition to announced plans to build one of the most comprehensive integrated renewable energy projects in the country, Sunflower is expanding its electrical generation capacity with the construction of three 700-megawatt coal-fired units on land adjacent to its current power plant near Holcomb.
The company is in the process of holding public hearings for air permits for the expansion. About 100 people attended a Tuesday night hearing in Garden City.
“The speakers were overwhelmingly supportive,” said Steve Miller, a spokesman for Sunflower. “There was one lady who had planned to speak against the plant, but after she heard our presentation, she sort of changed her mind and said it sounds like a good project after all.”
At a second forum on Thursday in Topeka, environmentalists spoke out against the plant, arguing that it will increase air pollution and that carbon dioxide emissions will contribute to global warming.
At the same time, Charles Benjamin an attorney for the Sierra Club’s Kansas chapter, predicted that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment will approve a permit for the project to move forward.
“They’re desperate for jobs out there,” Benjamin said. “I don’t see a scenario where a permit is going to be turned down.”
About 100 people attended the Topeka forum, and several spoke against the plant.
Sunflower executives argued that the project is not an environmental danger and that the company will comply with whatever standards the federal government imposes on emissions.
An additional forum will be Nov 16 in Lawrence. KDHE also will take written testimony until Nov. 30. Officials said a decision on whether to issue the permit will be made by January.
The bioenergy center, still in the planning stage, will integrate several renewable energy technologies with the coal-fired power plant to develop a bioenergy center that generates electricity, makes ethanol and biodiesel, and generates valuable byproducts.
Sunflower is working with the Kansas Bioscience Authority and the National Institute for Strategic Acquisition and Commercialization to develop the center.
Miller said the new Sunflower projects will result in the construction of more than 1,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines, an infrastructure development that he thinks will also encourage more wind farms in western Kansas.
The bioenergy center will use tallow from nearby beef processing plants as a feedstock for the biodiesel plant, and it will use manure and wastewater from nearby dairy operations in an anaerobic digester to produce methane gas that will be used as fuel for the station.
He said the latest technology will be used in the electrical generation expansion project, creating one of the cleanest power generation sites in the world.
“The newest coal plants in Kansas, prior to this project, were built in 1983,” Miller said. “Technology has come a long way since then.”
For instance, the new units will run at much hotter temperatures than existing plants. The result is that the plants will burn 212 fewer tons of coal per day for each unit than existing technology.
By Phyllis Jacobs Griekspoor
The Wichita Eagle
Contributing: The Associated Press
Reach P.J. Griekspoor at 316-268-6660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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