In January, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius set a goal that won accolades from environmental groups: produce 10 percent of Kansas’ electricity from wind power by 2010.
Now, amid controversy over plans to build a large coal-fired power plant in western Kansas, Sebelius’ office is qualifying that goal. The 10 percent goal for wind in 2010 – as well as a 20 percent goal set for 2020 – applies only to electricity consumed in Kansas, the governor’s office said Tuesday.
Most of the electricity to be produced at the proposed Sunflower Electric Power Corp. plant would go to other states. About 15 percent would serve Kansans.
Sebelius’ office argues that the goal always applied to energy consumption, not production. But environmental groups say it is just another instance of how Sebelius has chosen rhetoric over substance when it comes to the proposed plant.
Regardless of how much energy the state will get from the plant, “we’re going to be getting 100 percent of the pollution,” said Joe Spease, legislative chairman for the Kansas Sierra Club. “And that’s the problem.”
Sunflower is asking state health regulators for permission to build two 700-megawatt generators near an existing plant at Holcomb. Before it was scaled back last spring, the plant was slated to be the largest coal-fired plant west of the Mississippi.
Sebelius is seen as a leader among governors in promoting renewable energy, and she has long touted the benefits of wind power. In recent weeks she has voiced personal opposition to the plant.
In a statement released Monday, Sebelius cited a “moral duty to be good stewards of the land” and said “those considerations have convinced me that massive new coal plants in Kansas are not in the best interests of our citizens.”
On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson called reliance on coal a “dynamic problem” for Kansas. His remarks came in a speech before a renewable-energy conference in Topeka that drew more than 500 energy leaders, public officials and environmental advocates.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment, led by a Sebelius appointee, is considering the plant permit application. But Sebelius insists she lacks the authority to tell the department to reject the application. She said the decision must be made based on state and federal environmental regulations, not personal concerns. Environmental groups point to other states in which officials have blocked coal-fired plants. They say global warming and pollution make the Sunflower proposal a public health threat, something that should worry the Department of Health and Environment.
“It is now clear that climate change is a health issue,” said Wes Jackson of The Land Institute in Salina. “That’s the bottom line for the KDHE.”
The pressure on Sebelius isn’t just coming from environmental groups. On Wednesday, 40 Republican lawmakers signed a letter to the Department of Health and Environment urging approval of the permit. House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, an Ingalls Republican, called the plant a “win-win” for a struggling part of the state that needs jobs and electricity the plant will provide.
Earlier in the week, eight lawmakers issued a statement criticizing the governor for voicing concerns about the plant. They called on Sebelius to “influence” the department to grant the permit.
A department spokesman said there was no timetable for the decision on Sunflower’s permit application. Sunflower spokesman Steve Miller expressed dismay with the extended permit process, which has now stretched into its second year.
“What’s the holdup? That’s what I’d like to know,” Miller said.
Parkinson said it was wrong to assume that the Department of Health and Environment will grant the permit.
He also hinted that any approval might come with a requirement that Sunflower offset the plant with renewable energy sources.
By David Klepper
26 September 2007
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