Archive for Monday, January 29, 2007

Coal plant moratorium likely to fail

January 29, 2007

By Scott Rothschild

srothschild@ljworld.com

Topeka - A proposed two-year moratorium on coal-fired plants will probably fail in a legislative committee, lawmakers said Monday.

Both sides of the measure testified before the House Energy and Utilities Committee.

House Bill 2219 would declare a two-year moratorium on construction of coal-burning plants. During that time, the Legislative Division of Post Audit would conduct a study on the health effects of emissions from coal-fired plants and the proposed depletion of groundwater.

Flora's bill comes as state officials are considering a project by Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to build three 700-megawatt coal-fired plants in western Kansas.

Sunflower's chairman and chief executive officer Earl Watkins said if the legislation became law, it would kill the company's project.

"If you pass this bill, you won't simply delay a $5 billion project that we've been talking about for years to bring to Kansas. You will, in fact, kill it," Watkins said.

After the hearing, several committee members said the chance of the legislation was doubtful.

"It's not so good," state Rep. Vaughn Flora, D-Topeka, said of his bill's chances. "But I guess you never know," he added.

State Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, and a member of the committee, said he doubted the panel would approve it.

He declined to say how he would vote on it. The committee may work on the bill Friday.

Opponents of the proposed plants in western Kansas said the facilities would hurt the health of Kansans and economy by adding to global climate change through carbon dioxide emissions.

They urged the committee to focus on renewable energy sources, such as wind energy.

"With all the clean alternatives that Kansas has, it is time that they be used," said Tom Thompson of the Sierra Club. "It is time for Kansas to be part of the solution instead of the problem," he said.

Ray Dean, professor emeritus at Kansas University, said the ill effects of coal energy are never considered when the industry figures its costs.

"Air pollution from coal combustion kills people, dries the soil, destabilizes the biosphere, and disrupts the economy," Dean said.

But leaders of Sunflower Electric Power Corp. said the proposed legislation would not only kill their project, but hinder further development of wind energy.

Sunflower president Watkins said that with the additional plants near Holcomb would come expanded transmission lines that could carry energy produced by wind power.

Without the proposed plants, that transmission capacity will not be available, he said.

- Staff writer Scott Rothschild can be reached at 785-354-4222

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