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Denial of

permit sparks wind debate

TOPEKA (AP) -- The state's denial of a permit to build two coal-fired power plants in western Kansas has sparked a statewide debate on how efforts to increase wind power might be affected.

Last month, Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Rod Bremby rejected the $3.6 billion plants, citing health and environmental concerns about the projected emissions of 11 million tons of climate-changing carbon dioxide per year.

Supporters of the project by Hays-based Sunflower Electric Power Corp. have said the rejection will hurt the future of wind-generated electricity in Kansas.

But Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson, however, calls that a "total myth."

Because of Kansas' size, high winds and relatively flat lands -- especially in western Kansas -- experts say the state should be one of the nation's leaders in wind energy.

The Sunflower proposal included transmission lines that also could have transported power produced by wind turbines. The transmission lines are not economically feasible to build without the foundation of less expensive coal-fired power, the plants' supporters say.

"Regional transmission development will suffer if our project dies," said Earl Watkins Jr., president and chief executive officer of Sunflower. "No one, and I repeat, no one will build new transmission to Colorado."

But Parkinson said since the rejection of the plants, two transmission lines have been approved.

One of those is a line proposed by Lawrence-based ITC Great Plains. The 180-mile high voltage line would run from Spearville, southeast to Comanche County, and then northeast to Wichita.

Parkinson said Kansas needs transmission lines to move power from western Kansas to the east, not in the other direction.

Kansas has an opportunity to sell wind power in the southeastern part of the United States, "which virtually has no wind resource," he said.

But state Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, a national-level expert on energy, said he hasn't seen a big market in the southeastern United States. But he said there is potential for a market in California.

Sloan said to economically justify a transmission line to carry power from western Kansas requires "anchor generation," such as coal, nuclear or natural gas.

About 3 percent of Kansas electricity today comes from wind power, mostly from three large-scale wind farms.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has set goals of increasing wind power to 10 percent of total electric use in Kansas by 2010 and 20 percent by 2020.