Kansas lawmakers attempt another run at coal plant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - New Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson on Monday proposed allowing a 895-megawatt expansion to a coal-fired power plant in a scaled-down version from a proposal rejected 18 months ago in a landmark ruling by state officials.

In October 2007, Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) Secretary Rod Bremby rejected plans for two 700-MW coal-fired units at Holcomb. It was the first time a U.S. coal plant was rejected solely on the basis of health risks from carbon dioxide emissions.

Parkinson supports the expansion of the Sunflower Electric Power Corp plant in Holcomb in western Kansas, unlike his predecessor as governor, Kathleen Sebelius, who is now in President Barack Obama’s cabinet as health and human services secretary.

Parkinson wasted little time in forging a compromise with Sunflower CEO Earl Watkins. He took office last Tuesday.

Sebelius vetoed four bills that would have allowed the expansion to the Sunflower plant in Holcomb.

The proposal is part of an energy legislation package before Kansas lawmakers, which may come to vote later this week.

“Prior to this agreement, the legislature was at an impasse on energy issues,” read a statement by Parkinson. “With this agreement, we can start to move forward.”

If passed, the legislation would prevent the KDHE from denying a permit to any plant that meets Kansas standards. Plus, the KDHE would not be allowed to be more stringent than federal clean air standards.

Sunflower spokeswoman Cindy Hertel said the company is confident it has the 63 votes required to pass the legislation. Prior to the arrival of Parkinson, 84 votes would have been needed to override a veto.

The cost of the new plant was not revealed. In early 2007, when three 700-MW units were proposed to be built at the existing 360-MW plant, the cost was near $4 billion.

Sunflower CEO Earl Watkins said construction could start on the plant in 12 to 18 months. Construction would take about four years.

Watkins said the compromise proposal meets the state’s need for baseload power sources and also promotes renewable energy and fosters its growth in Kansas.

It also allows power from the Holcomb plant to be exported to electric cooperatives in Colorado and Texas. About 200 MW would remain in Kansas. Sebelius and other opponents to the Holcomb plant have said that Kansas got only part of the power but all of the CO2 emissions.

Sunflower said the Holcomb plant will be the cleanest available for coal power, but will still emit more CO2 than combined-cycle natural gas power plants.

The company is also to create the Sunflower Integrated Bioenergy center, which will seek federal renewable energy stimulus funds for projects that could include ethanol, biodiesel, and algae energy plants.

The cooperatives involved are Tri-State Generation, which has most of its customers in Colorado, and Golden Spread Electric Cooperative, based in Amarillo in northern Texas.

Editing by Michael Urquhart