Gov. Kathleen Sebelius sought again Friday to extend an olive branch to Sunflower Electric after she vetoed a bill that would have let the company build two new coal-fired power plants.
But Sunflower, a Hays-based electric generation and transmission cooperative, wasn’t interested, instead urging lawmakers to override the veto.
“If not resolved, this veto will unnecessarily raise electric rates for Kansas families and punish Kansas workers and industries,” said Sunflower President Earl Watkins.
Sebelius posed her second compromise proposal to Sunflower, seeking to encourage the utility to add more wind power to their system, to pursue more energy efficiency and to build a smaller coal-fired generator.
But Steve Miller, Sunflower’s spokesman, said that wouldn’t work because it was “unbelievably” expensive.
Sebelius also established a task force of business executives, energy experts and scientists and named as its leader Cessna Aircraft Company’s President Jack Pelton of Wichita.
The group will explore how Kansas can reduce its emissions of carbon dioxide linked to global warming.
“We know that greenhouse gases contribute to climate change,” Sebelius said. “As an agricultural state, Kansas is particularly vulnerable. Therefore, reducing pollutants benefits our state not only in the short term – but also for generations of Kansans to come.”
Sebelius said Pelton understands the balance between continuing to grow the economy and environmental protection, maximizing the state’s natural assets.
Criticizing the governor
House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, and Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, roundly criticized the governor’s veto of legislation passed by large majorities in both chambers.
“The people of Kansas have made it clear they intend to have a sound energy policy that is also environmentally friendly and have encouraged us to take the first step by allowing this project to continue,” said Neufeld. R-Ingalls.
Sunflower seeks to build the 1,400-megawatt generating complex along with Colorado and Texas utilities. About 15 percent of the power will be used in Kansas.
A state regulator denied Sunflower’s permit for the project last fall, citing its CO2 emissions and concerns about global warming.
Some House members are discussing a possible second bill with added environmental provisions that might draw enough votes to override any veto attempt.
But environmental groups said the governor’s actions position Kansas to now take the lead in a new energy economy.
“We are certainly pleased to see the governor taking such a decisive step in comprehensive energy planning and preparation for solving the climate crisis,” said Nancy Jackson, executive director of the Land Institute’s Climate and Energy Project at Salina.
Senate Bill 327, which the governor vetoed, set no limits on carbon dioxide. It would have restricted the state’s top environmental regulator from adding them.
Business and industry, which in the past often fought climate change legislation, now appear to be split over the issue in Kansas.
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce President Amy Blankenbiller said Friday the “veto is extremely disappointing,” adding that “regulatory uncertainty created by the administration continues to make economic development difficult in the state of Kansas.”
Yet Wester Energy, the state’s largest utility, recently agreed with the state to launch a plan to reduce its carbon footprint.
And several new wind farm developers this year are eyeing the state for investments that would generate at least 650 new megawatts of electricity.
The Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club spokeswoman Stephanie Cole said the governor’s decision would allow the state to prepare for expected federal carbon regulations.
“While other states are moving away from outdated energy technology and making efforts to reduce their carbon emissions, it would be unfair of Kansas to counteract their efforts by adding two coal plants that would collectively emit 11 million tons of carbon dioxide per year,” Cole said.
But Hays Reps. Eber Phelps, a Democrat, said the state should allow the new, more efficient coal plants even if they do emit CO2.
Then the state could phase out the older, dirtier plants elsewhere in Kansas, he added.
“Senate Bill 327 is one of the most aggressive steps we have taken to spur major development of renewable energy and investment in conservation,” Phelps said. “It embraces new technology that would reduce Kansas’ dependence on less efficient energy sources.”
By SARAH KESSINGER
Harris News Service
21 March 2008
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