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KDHE issues Sunflower Electric air quality permit
Proposed coal-fire plant drawing fire from environmental groups
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To view the permit, click on the link below.

TOPEKA – After years of controversy and months of public comments, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment Thursday announced it has issued the air quality permit for the proposed 895 megawatt coal-fired steam generating unit at the Sunflower Electric Power Corporation near Holcomb.

"After careful review of the permit application, public comments and applicable laws, I have decided to approve the application for an air quality permit," said John W. Mitchell, KDHE acting secretary. "The Sunflower proposed expansion project meets all current state and federal requirements for issuing the permit."

The Sunflower application was submitted Jan. 13 and deemed complete June 30. An initial public comment period was held July 1-Aug. 15. A second comment period was held Sept. 23-Oct. 23 to allow for changes that needed to be made to the modeling data. Throughout the process, staff has been working on a Responsiveness Summary, reviewing comments received, making modifications to the permit and providing responses to the comments.

This decision, which concurs with the recommendation by the KDHE’s technical staff, allows Sunflower to proceed with construction of a state-of-the-art, coal-based unit that will provide both necessary baseload energy and an economic boost to the state of Kansas. Sunflower is owned by six distribution cooperatives that serve 400,000 members throughout central and western Kansas.

"Without a doubt, this milestone could not have been reached if not for the support of many people across the state," said Earl Watkins, president and CEO of Sunflower. "We are grateful for all those who championed—whether by written communication, verbal communication, or in spirit—the need for a project that will generate baseload energy at the lowest possible cost while creating vital jobs for Kansans.

"We also appreciate the professionalism and expertise of the KDHE technical staff members, who have worked long and hard to make certain the air construction permit for our project protects the environment and follows strict state and federal requirements."

A recent study conducted by Sunflower shows the $2.2 billion project will take approximately 52 months to build and generate an estimated 5,900 job years (one job for one year) throughout the state of Kansas, paying $250 million in labor income and generating $400 million in total income. During each year of operation, the unit will generate more than 260 jobs statewide, paying $17 million in labor income and almost $200 million in total income.

Sunflower initially filed an application in 2006 for three 700-megawatt units. In 2009, as a result of a bi-partisan compromise, Sunflower was able to resume the permitting process for the current 895-megawatt project.

"Although we anticipate that more challenges lie ahead before the Holcomb expansion comes to fruition, be assured that we will forge ahead and continue to develop this project in the best interest of our member-owners and the 400,000 people they serve in central and western Kansas."

However, a joint statement released by environmental groups Earthjustice and the Sierra Club contends the final permit was pushed through in less than six months despite a comment period that generated 6,000 public comments, many of which were against the project, and despite decreasing electricity demand, low natural gas prices, and considerable renewable energy growth. "In fact, just this month Colorado announced it will be shutting down coal plants while Kansas brings a comparable amount of new coal capacity online, ironically, mostly to serve Colorado," the statement reads.

"Thousands of people got involved in the permitting process with a belief that their input would be fairly considered, and it should have been. Accelerating the process to permit a coal plant for an out-of-state utility, at the expense of Kansans, is inexcusable," said Stephanie Cole of the Kansas Sierra Club.

The groups contend the plant would "emit millions of tons of pollutants each year over the 50+ year life of the project, posing substantial risks to human health and the environment. The permitting process requires public comments to be thoroughly considered. Instead, review of nearly 6,000 public comments apparently was cut short in an attempt to avoid new national environmental regulations, which become applicable on Jan. 2, 2011."

"The rushed job on this permit is an injustice to the thousands of citizens who participated in the process with the belief that their input was meaningful," Cole said. "By turning the permitting process into a race against the clock, the state has signaled that it does not value public involvement."

The environemental groups also contend the project will draw scrutney from the EPA.

"The EPA has announced plans to carefully review this permit to determine whether KDHE adequately considered public comments and whether the permit includes the strong pollution controls required under the Clean Air Act," said Amanda Goodin of Earthjustice. "If EPA blinks – and it certainly shouldn’t - the Clean Air Act allows the people of Kansas legal redress to ensure the Act’s full enforcement."

"KDHE is committed to a fair and accurate process," Mitchell said. "Our staff has diligently and thoroughly reviewed this application and all public comments received. We have also worked with EPA and Sunflower throughout the entire process to ensure all requirements are met. I am confident that we have the best permit possible for Kansas."

To review a copy of the Sunflower permit and Responsiveness Summary, visit