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House adds wind power to coal bill  

TOPEKA – A House committee endorsed a bill Tuesday to allow two coal-fired power plants in southwest Kansas, adding a mandate that utilities generate 10 percent of their electricity from renewable resources such as wind within two years.

The Energy and Utilities Committee’s unanimous voice vote to send the measure to the House stood in sharp contrast to the strong divisions over energy policy that emerged during a four-hour debate. Members rewrote a bill drafted by the committee’s Republican chairman and top Democrat and their Senate counterparts.

Three times, the House committee rejected proposals for what would have been the state’s first limits on carbon dioxide emissions, which many scientists link to global warming. Yet they included a provision that says power plants must attempt to capture CO2 through “the best technological practices.”

Not only would utilities be required to generate 10 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2010, the figure would climb to 25 percent in 2025. But there’s no punishment if a utility fails to meet the standard, only a promise that the state will let state-regulated, investor-owned companies earn higher profits if they do meet the standard.

The bill sets energy efficiency standards for new state buildings, but not for new public school buildings, as originally contemplated. It limits the power of the state’s top environmental regulator, but not as much as some legislators had sought.

“It adequately expresses the wild diversity in the Legislature about what we should do about energy policy,” said Rep. Joshua Svaty, an Ellsworth Democrat who pushed for the renewable energy standards.

The Senate plans to debate its own energy bill today. Its Utilities Committee also endorsed the two coal-fired plants and rejected CO2 rules, but it did not include the renewable energy standards.

Both bills are a response by a decision in October by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ secretary of health and environment to deny an air-quality permit to Sunflower Electric Power Corp. for the coal-fired plants, which it would build outside Holcomb, in Finney County. The $3.6 billion project enjoys bipartisan support.

Sunflower’s chief executive officer was pleased with the Senate’s bill, but after the House committee’s debate, company spokesman Steve Miller was cautious, saying the utility had to review it thoroughly.

“We’ve made it another mile marker down the road,” Miller said. “If I had to just guess, overall, we’ll figure out a way to make things work.”

Associated Press

The Wichita Eagle

13 February 2008

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