Wind. Coal. Biodiesel. They are all buzzwords in discussions about the future of energy in Kansas. They are each also bound to play a role in some of the energy decisions made by the 2007 Legislature.
While they bring many challenges, Rep. Carl Holmes, R-Liberal, who chairs the House Utilities and Energy Committee, says it is a rewarding process.
“This is a very challenging time in the energy field in Kansas and nationally right now, but it’s also a very exciting time,” Holmes said. “This will impact the future of energy for our kids and grandkids.”
Holmes’ words ring true for more than just himself. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius also says this is a key time for energy discussions in Kansas.
“It’s a great time, frankly, to have this discussion in Kansas,” Sebelius said. “We’re a state that about 75 percent of our energy comes from coal. Coal and heavy reliance on coal has a number of beneficial impacts on consumers. It’s cheap energy. We have low energy costs compared to the rest of the country.”
While wind- and coal-generated power tend to dominate the mainstream chatter of energy in Kansas, Holmes says they are just the tip of the iceberg, rattling off a handful of bills that will address nuclear plants, biodiesel production and transmission issues.
Sebelius has been asked by some to ban coal plants in Kansas, even as Sunflower Electric Power Corp. prepares to build three new plants near Holcomb in the southwest part of the state. Sebelius says, however, that she is looking at all of the options.
The Holcomb Station Expansion Project is about four miles south of Holcomb. It calls for the construction of three supercritical pulverized coal units, each capable of generating 700 megawatts of electricity. The units will be owned by three cooperatives, Sunflower Electric, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc., and Golden Spread Electric Cooperative Inc., which supply more than 1.5 million consumers in seven states. Sunflower Electric and Golden Spread Electric along with other investors will jointly own the first coal unit, which will be operational in 2011. Tri-State Generation and Transmission will own the second and third plants, scheduled to be up and running in 2012 and 2013.
“There is a move nationwide to block coal plants,” Holmes said. “Any time they start talking about a new coal-fire plant, there’s seems to be opposition.”
Holmes said legislation was approved in 2001 that favored large coal plants, and he has heard little talk of new legislation regarding the plants that could be proposed this session.
Opinions on wind energy in Kansas swirl from all directions. Options, which range from full-fledged support of wind development to limited development to no wind turbines at all, are often tossed around.
Sebelius said she felt wind energy plays a significant role in the state’s energy portfolio and where energy production will be in 10 to 15 years, noting that incentives would go a long way in the growth of wind-generated power.
Holmes said legislation likely would be proposed that would restrict where wind farms could be located. One of the most significant bills in the works related to renewable power paves the way for tax incentives for smaller community wind projects.
The latest wind development in Kansas is a deal announced by Sunflower Electric and Trade Wind Energy LLC. The project, 25 miles west of Salina, will be between 50 and 100 megawatts, with a potential expansion to 250-megawatts. The wind farm would cover about 25,000 acres and include up to 150 turbines. Trade Wind began assembling land leases for the site about four years ago.
That project hasn’t been without opposition. Ron Klataske, executive director of Audubon of Kansas, said the group didn’t oppose wind development. Rather, he said, it opposed where such development could be located.
“It’s a very inappropriate site, destroying nearly 20,000 acres of native grassland. There are a number of organizations and individuals in that area that are opposed to it,” Klataske said of the Salina-area site. “It would be difficult for Sunflower to back out of its contract, but we’re hoping they can work with the company they’re contracted with and find a more suitable location.”
The Kansas Energy Council met in December, drafting an energy plan for 2007, making recommendations to stimulate both coal and wind power. The council set a goal of developing 1,000 megawatts in wind-generated power by 2015. It also set a goal of increasing opportunities to generate electricity through integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) coal power plants, in association with carbon dioxide capture and storage.
The council recommended that the Legislature determine how state- and consumer-funded support should be structured to stimulate the growth of IGCC coal power plants and wind energy.
Holmes, along with other House members, is working on a full slate of bills that include provisions for biomass energy; biodiesel development; an additional nuclear power plant at Wolf Creek; stiffer penalties for theft of utility property, specifically copper in the transmission system; and tax incentives for power plants that capture and dispose of CO2 produced by their plant.
“It’s important that we continue to help Kansas become a processor of energy,” Holmes said. “We need to take some of the legislation that’s been passed before and move forward.”
By Anna Staatz
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