Decision spurs needed dialogue
This past October, Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Roderick Bremby rejected the expansion of two 700-megawatt coal-fired power plants near Holcomb. The secretary cited concerns about carbon dioxide emissions and global warming in his reasoning. Since then, Sunflower Electric Power Corporation, Tri-State Energy of Colorado (the plant developers) and their legislative supporters have mounted an effort to reverse the decision and have recently introduced identical bills (HB 2711 / SB 515) in both House and Senate utilities committees that seek to have the two additional coal-fired plants built. Eighty-six percent of the energy generated from the proposed Holcomb plants would be sent out of state to Colorado and Texas.
The bills would impose Kansas' first limits on carbon dioxide emissions. However, the bills would also revoke the authority of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to impose emissions standards more stringent than those imposed by the federal Clean Air Act without legislative approval. In effect, these bills would overturn the secretary's decision, strip the secretary of regulatory authority in the future and open Kansas up for even more coal-fired plant development.
To add financial reality to the mix, three of the biggest investment banks on Wall Street just last week warned that large coal plants risk saddling their owners with excessive debt. This debt risk is due to the near certainty that a carbon tax will be imposed by the federal government within the next few years. Coal plants are huge emitters of carbon pollution, and their operators will end up paying substantial fees if a carbon tax is implemented. Make no mistake, these fees will ultimately be passed on to both rate payers and those states where the coal plants reside.
Kansas sorely lags other states in its usage of renewable energy sources, and it is important that our state puts together a long-term energy strategy that recognizes the need for a mix of coal, nuclear, wind and solar energy to meet Kansas' current and future energy needs. Meaningful conservation incentives must also be part of the mix. I would support the building of an additional coal-fired plant in Holcomb to support western Kansas' energy needs. I do NOT, however, support the current Sunflower/ Tri-State proposal because of the unknown financial exposure that the exported energy would create given uncertainty in federal regulations regarding carbon dioxide. I simply do not want to see Kansas saddled with a significant financial / environmental liability for out-of-state energy consumers.
Regardless of whether one likes or dislikes Secretary Bremby's decision, we can probably all agree that the ruling is forcing Kansas officials and citizens to have a long-overdue debate on the state's future energy needs and strategies for addressing those needs. And at the end of the day, that can only be good news for our state.
- State Rep. Tom Holland, a Baldwin Democrat, has served in the Kansas House of Representatives since 2003. He can be reached at (785) 766-6862 (daytime) or (785) 865-2786 (evenings). His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.