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Supporters: No coal, lines means doom

WICHITA (AP) -- As many as 13 potential wind-farm projects in western Kansas could be in danger because of the state's decision to reject two coal-fired generating plants near Holcomb, proponents of the wind farms said.

New transmission lines were to be part of the $3.6 billion Hays-based Sunflower Electric Power Corp. project, which was rejected by Rod Bremby, the state's secretary of health and environment.

But with the fate of that project in doubt, several western Kansas officials say their projects aren't feasible without the additional transmission capacity.

"I'd say this decision pretty much halts wind development in western Kansas," said David Snyder, economic development director in Ness County. "We need transmission lines, and we need the coal plants to get them."

Snyder said it's not economically practical for transmission lines to be erected for wind alone because of the erratic nature of the power source and the expense of the lines.

Building transmission lines costs about $1 million per mile.

"It's bad enough that we face shortages in power and the loss of a sizable amount of money already invested in preparing for the construction of the plants, but now we could lose our wind project, as well," said Neal Gillespie, economic director for Stevens County in far southwest Kansas.

Bremby rejected the permit for Sunflower's coal plants because of their potential carbon dioxide emissions. Many scientists see CO2 as a significant contributor to global warming.

Critics also noted much of the energy that would have been produced at the new Holcomb plants would have been exported to other states.

Gillespie said he doesn't understand why the exporting issue suddenly has become a bad thing.

"I was at an economic summit in Topeka a few years back where one of the key problems we talked about was how Kansas used to be an energy exporter and now we've become an importer," he said. "Out here, we look at exporting as a good thing. In fact, most of western Kansas' wind projects have been conceived as economic development with plans to export the energy."

ITC Great Plains, based in Lawrence, has received approval to add a transmission line from Spearville, near Dodge City, to Wichita, and it might build even more lines across the state.

But Snyder said that line won't do anything for the region north of Dodge City or west of Spearville, where there's the biggest potential for wind farms.

"We've got a lot of wind power companies interested in our potential," Snyder said. "Then they find out that we've got 115 kilowatt lines with no capacity to add any power and the answer we get is, 'When you get bigger lines, call us.' "

Larry McCants, a Goodland bank president and leader in the Goodland Energy Park project, said wind power is a component of that project, too. And there's an even larger wind farm proposed in Sherman County near Goodland, he said.

"Without the transmission lines and the baseload capacity that would come from the Holcomb project, our wind development really won't happen," McCants said.