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Industry-backed group pushes new set of ads for coal plants

11/6/2007

By SARAH KESSINGER

Harris News Service

TOPEKA -- Yet another set of full-page advertisements, this time financed by Sunflower Electric and a St. Louis coal company, ran in newspapers across Kansas on Monday and today, seeking to refute an earlier ad bonanza by an Oklahoma natural gas company.

The ongoing feud -- the gas company said later Monday it would mount a response to the coal companies' response ads -- among fossil fuel companies has emerged from a debate over Sunflower's air-quality permit for two coal-burning power plants.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' administration denied the permit last month citing concerns about the 1,400-megawatt plants' carbon dioxide emissions and climate change.

The governor issued a statement Monday saying the latest set of ads was "over-the-top nonsense."

"It does a real disservice to Kansans who are looking for an honest and constructive debate about our state's energy future."

The utility- and coal industry-backed campaign will include television and radio spots as well, said Roy Dixon, a Garden City business consultant and a spokesman for the group Kansans for Affordable Energy, which is listed as a sponsor on the advertisements.

The ads actually were funded by Hays-based Sunflower Electric and Peabody Energy, the world's largest private-sector coal company.

Steve Miller, Sunflower spokesman, said there also were some local contributions to the fund from the company's service area.

The ad, which ran in 10 newspapers, claims the permit denial will lead to more natural gas imports from Russia and other countries considered hostile to the United States -- Venezuela and Iran.

They feature photos of the countries' leaders, Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with a headline asking "Why are these men smiling?"

"We'll see a significant jump in the cost of natural gas if all of our eggs are in the natural gas basket," said one of the ad's organizers, Bob Kreutzer, who runs a Garden City plumbing business.

"These two coal-fired power plants offer a phenomenal balance to the overall system," he said, adding wind and natural gas also should be a part of the mix.

Oklahoma natural gas producer Chesapeake Energy planned to respond to the ad on their sponsored Web site, knowyourpower.net.

"Knowyourpower.net plans to correct the ad's factual errors on its Web site and then in its own advertisements," said Michael Grimaldi, spokesman for Corporate Communications, a public relations firm contracted by Cheseapeake.

The company's original ads criticized coal-fired electric plants for their pollutants and promoted natural gas combined with wind energy as the alternative to new coal plants.

Natural gas also emits carbon dioxide when it is burned, but at about half the levels emitted by coal plants.

Kreutzer said Chesapeake's not telling Kansans the whole story about the expense of natural gas. He acknowledged coal, too, could climb in cost if state or federal governments add regulation of carbon emissions. But Kreutzer said he expects natural gas to remain among the most expensive sources of power.

Advocates of more wind energy and new efficiency efforts, however, say natural gas could be used as a backup while new sources of renewable power are built.

"Now's not the time to be fighting," said Craig Volland, spokesman for the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club. "We're losing track of what we should be doing and that's pursuing wind power."

David Springe, an attorney with the consumer advocacy office at the state's utility regulatory commission, said it's good to see debate about the country's future energy sources.

"These aren't black-and-white issues," he said. "But at the end of the day, whichever direction we decide to go, consumers will end up footing the bill."