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Kansas Supreme Court hears power plant permit case

9/1/2012

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Attorneys for environmental groups argued Friday that a construction permit issued by state regulators for a new coal-fired power plant in southwestern Kansas violates air quality standards and should be rejected.

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Attorneys for environmental groups argued Friday that a construction permit issued by state regulators for a new coal-fired power plant in southwestern Kansas violates air quality standards and should be rejected.

But lawyers for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment told the Kansas Supreme Court the agency followed all applicable laws and scientific standards in issuing the permit for Sunflower Electric Power Corp.

The court's ruling will determine whether the 2010 permit is proper and could allow construction to begin on the plant near Holcomb. The seven-member court didn't indicate how quickly it would rule.

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups claim the permitting process was flawed. They say KDHE took shortcuts for political reasons, and that members of the environmental groups have or will be harmed by the plant's emissions.

Attorney Amanda Goodin said the permit ignores federal Clean Air Act standards, allowing for greater emissions of nitrous oxide, sulfur oxide and other particles that should be held to a minimum.

"That's not what this permit does," she said. "Under the Clean Air Act and Kansas law, that's just not good enough."

Attorneys for Hays-based Sunflower and the state contend regulators look at the best available scientific data, assuming the plant would use modern technology to reduce emissions.

The Sunflower project has been on indefinite hold. A federal judge delayed the project in January until a federal environmental impact study could be completed.

Sunflower supplies power for about 400,000 Kansas customers and plans to build a plant with a capacity of 895 megawatts, enough to meet the peak demands of 448,000 households, according to one state estimate. Three-quarters of the new capacity, or 695 megawatts, would be reserved for Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc., of Westminster Colo., which plans to buy the power for customers in Colorado.

James Oliver, an attorney representing Tri-State, said the environmental groups failed to demonstrate how issuing a permit to construct the power plant had caused harm, given that no emissions have been released and nothing has been built.

"It's all total speculation," Oliver said.

The project's critics have argued that Kansas will get all of the pollution but not all of the benefits as the utility rushes to add coal-fired generating capacity. Sunflower's supporters say exporting electricity is as beneficial to the state economy as exporting beef, wheat and other agricultural commodities.

Then-KDHE Secretary Rod Bremby rejected the staff's original recommendation for the permit in 2007, citing concerns about greenhouse gas emissions and his duty to protect public health.

A settlement was brokered by then-Gov. Mark Parkinson to clear the way for the permit, with assurances from Sunflower that the plant would employ the best possible controls and technologies to mitigate emissions, as well as invest in renewable energy.

Goodin said the permit had to include more stringent requirements for emissions during the construction phase to ensure that Sunflower would be in compliance with tightening state and federal limits when the plant goes on line. KDHE must issue an operating permit for the plant once construction is complete.

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The case is No. 105,493.

Online:

Kansas Supreme Court: http://www.kscourts.org