Controversial power plant gets permit
By ANGIE HAFLICH
Special to The Hays Daily News
GARDEN CITY -- One hurdle to Sunflower Electric Corp.'s proposed 895-megawatt coal-fired power plant was cleared Friday, with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment's issuance of an air quality permit addendum for the company's proposed expansion near Holcomb.
"KDHE has done its due diligence to ensure this plant will deliver clean power to Kansans within current emission limits," Gov. Sam Brownback said. "The issuance of this permit addendum also ensures new job creation in Holcomb and Southwest Kansas."
The construction of the plant has been delayed since 2007, when Kansas denied a building permit because of health concerns about greenhouse gases.
KDHE originally granted the air quality permit to Sunflower in December 2010. After the permit was challenged, the Kansas Supreme Court reviewed the original decision and asked for KDHE to address two issues: the federal regulations establishing 1-hour NO2 and SO2 National Ambient Air Quality Standards; and to apply new Hazardous Air Pollutant emission limits to the proposed plant's steam generator.
The addendum addressed nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide one-hour rules for National Ambient Air Quality Standards. KDHE indicated modeling was conducted as part of the review process for the December 2010 permit, and the results showed the proposed project "would not cause or contribute" to exceeding emissions standards.
However, the court ruled KDHE needed to be more specific about that part. The court also ruled KDHE needed to apply Hazardous Air Pollutants emission limits to the Holcomb plant. The HAP rules cover new coal- and oil-fired electric utility steam generating units greater than 25 megawatts constructed after May 2011.
As a result, KDHE included language in the addendum that requires the plant owners to comply with all applicable air quality provisions upon startup of Holcomb 2.
"This permit is in compliance with all current state and federal laws, and addresses all issues brought forth by the Kansas Supreme Court," KDHE Secretary Robert Moser said. "After many months of agency staff reviewing the addendum made to the original permit application, and working with various stakeholders, KDHE has decided to issue an air quality permit addendum to Sunflower Electric Corp."
Sunflower issued the following statement after the announcement was made by the KDHE:
"Sunflower is currently reviewing the addendum to the air permit announced by KDHE this morning. Therefore, we're not in a position to comment on the addendum today. We appreciate the work done by KDHE to have an open and transparent public comment process and ensure the air permit for the Holcomb Expansion Project meets strict state and federal requirements. We will continue to evaluate the project in the best interest of our member cooperatives and those they serve."
Cindy Hertel, Sunflower communications manager, declined to comment about the company's next steps.
KDHE began taking testimony and comments about the addendum in mid-January. The public comment period ended with a public hearing on May 19 in Garden City.
Lona DuVall, president of the Finney County Economic Development Corp., was encouraged by Friday's decision.
"I'm very excited. Sunflower has fought a long, hard battle here and continued to keep up the good fight when I'm sure it would have been easier to walk away from it. They know that we're going to have an increased need for power generation as we continue to grow our economy and grow our area, so the fact that they stayed with it is very important for all of us," DuVall said, adding she thinks Sunflower has provided a good, quality electrical product in the cleanest way possible. "I just really hope that we're able to move it completely through the process this time and break ground out there."
Holcomb Mayor Gary Newman sees KDHE's issuance of the addendum as a big step in the right direction.
"I think that the decision by Secretary Moser reaffirms Sunflower's dedication and commitment to ensuring that they adhere to the strict regulations imposed by the EPA," Newman said, adding that it will be beneficial for both local electrical needs, as well as the growing need for power it will produce in neighboring states. "I appreciate the fact that Sunflower continues to forge forward with this despite all the setbacks over and over again."
Steve Dyer, president of the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce, said he is hopeful that the company has no more obstacles to face.
"Hopefully they'll be seeing the finish line from here and they can get started and get that construction going and get that investment put into Finney County," Dyer said.
According to Dyer, the impact to the local economy will be significant.
"The construction phase is going to be a multi-year construction project, so you're looking at housing rentals, hotel rooms, restaurants and retail -- just a huge influx of investment into the community. And really, in southwest Kansas, not just Garden City, over that long period of time and in the long term, there's increased tax base, increased employment and job creation is always positive for the area," Dyer said.
DuVall described the excess power that the current plant sells outside of the region as a "huge economic boon."
"We're an export economy, and the strongest kind of economy you can have is one where you produce something that you sell outside of your area," DuVall said. "It's bringing dollars into our community that didn't exist here prior to it, so economically, it's a beautiful thing."
Congressman Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, issued the following statement:
"Despite the threats of the Obama Administration to move forward with job-killing, costly mandates on coal-fired power plants, the State of Kansas remains committed to affordable electricity for its citizens. Environmentalists -- most of them from outside of Kansas -- and their trial lawyers have unnecessarily delayed the start of this critical project long enough. I have been fighting since my time in the Kansas Senate for this much-needed expanded electrical capacity, so I am excited by this regulatory approval. With this construction, thousands of new American jobs will be created, an economic boost will be provided to western Kansas, and the Sunflower project will deliver the dependable, affordable electricity needed for Kansas and the region."
According to Sunflower Electric, the $2.2 billion plant is estimated to create 1,900 construction jobs at peak build-out, which translates to approximately $250 million in labor income over the duration of construction and $400 million in total income. After the Holcomb Station is built, there will be an estimated 88 permanent jobs, a total of 261 new jobs throughout Kansas that combined, will generate approximately $17 million in annual labor income and $200 million in total income annually.
Additional information and the addendum for the Sunflower Electric Corporation permit application can be found at www.kdheks.gov/bar/sunflower/sunflower.html.
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