Politics & Government

Report: Sunflower plant not so clean

Supporters of the proposed Sunflower power plant have promised Kansans it will be the cleanest coal plant in the country.

It won't, according to an analysis of pollution emissions at the nation's other coal-fired units that was obtained by the Kansas City Star.

Hundreds of coal plants will have cleaner emissions of some pollutants than Sunflower Electric Power Corp.' s plant once it's built, according to the report, which is expected to be released today.

The report was compiled by MSB Energy Associates and the Natural Resources Defense Council for Great Plains Alliance for Clean Energy, a nonprofit organization that was organized to oppose the plant.

"Claims that this plant would rank as 'clean' or 'cleanest' either ignored existing facts and data or were made to intentionally mislead the public," said Scott Allegrucci, executive director of Great Plains Alliance.

Sunflower officials did not respond to specific questions about the report but referred instead to the permit the state approved in December. They said their mission is to supply their 400,000 members with energy at the lowest possible cost while protecting the environment.

Officials for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, which issued the permit, said they would not comment on the report, citing ongoing litigation. The Sierra Club filed an appeal of the permit in January.

"According to KDHE General Counsel, KDHE stands by the permit as was issued and looks forward to defending it," a written statement said.

The permit from KDHE gave the green light to the Hays-based Sunflower co-op to break ground on the controversial plant, possibly this year. Construction had been halted for almost two years after KDHE Secretary Roderick Bremby denied the permit because of health concerns over greenhouse gases.

A settlement agreement allowed the permitting process to begin again in 2009. But after Sunflower officials complained that Bremby was delaying the project, he was fired in November by Gov. Mark Parkinson. A month later, John Mitchell, who replaced Bremby as acting secretary, approved the permit.

At a news conference in December, Mitchell described the plant's technology to control emissions as "state of the art."

Mitchell also said he "will be very surprised if (EPA officials) have any problem with what we have done."

But last week, the Environmental Protection Agency sent the agency a letter questioning two of the proposed emission levels granted by the permit and whether they violate the Clean Air Act.

KDHE officials said Tuesday that they would not comment about EPA's concerns.

Emissions comparison

The new analysis compared emissions of four pollutants from the almost 700 coal-fired generating units in the country to the emission levels listed in the Sunflower permit.

The report found that the Sunflower permit did not compare well in two areas:

* At least 669 coal-fired generating units have lower emissions of particulate matter than the current Sunflower permit allows.

* At least 321 coal-fired generating units have lower emissions of mercury than the Sunflower permit allows.

The permit compared better in two other areas, but the EPA is questioning whether the permit is adhering to new federal rules on those.

According to the report:

* At least 53 coal-fired generating units have lower emissions of sulfur dioxide than the Sunflower permit allows.

* At least 18 coal-fired generating units have lower emissions of nitrogen oxides than the Sunflower permit allows.

The report also pointed out that the boiler that would be designed for the Holcomb plant would use standard technology.

A settlement agreement between Sunflower and Parkinson had said that the co-op would install what is known as an ultra-supercritical pulverized boiler, "which would have made it among the most advanced and efficient plants in the nation," according to the report.

Such a boiler would reduce greenhouse gases, industry experts have said.

However, the report said, when Sunflower applied for the permit, it decided to use the less efficient boiler. KDHE then approved it.

"If Sunflower really wanted to build the cleanest coal plant in the country, they could have included far more effective pollution control technologies in their plan," said Stephanie Cole, a spokeswoman for the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club.

Backers' comments

The Natural Resources Defense Council is an environmental advocacy organization with more than 350 lawyers, scientists and others who challenge environmental issues. MSB provides energy consulting services.

The analysis quoted four people, including Mitchell, who had said the plant would be state of the art.

"It's the cleanest coal power plant in the country," Wayne Penrod, Sunflower's executive manager of environmental policy, was quoted as saying. "That's clean. If it's not, it's something that we should all be ashamed of."

Penrod could not be reached for comment.

Rep. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, also had praised the coal plant at an Overland Park permit hearing last year.

"Best Available Control Technology is required, so that means that when a new power plant is built, whatever kind of power plant, it will be the cleanest power plant in the world at that time," Knox was quoted as saying.

This week Knox said he got his information from Sunflower and the state but he was unsure if he had been misled.

"I don't know at all," Knox said.

Richard Taylor, president of the Kansas State Building & Construction Trades, a group that expects to get some of the work when construction begins on the coal plant, also made his clean plant statement at the Overland Park hearing.

"Bottom-line, this will provide badly needed jobs for Kansas and will be the cleanest coal plant in the nation," he had said.

On Tuesday he said his information had come from Sunflower and the state.

"I had the same information that everybody has had as what they were going to use in constructing the project," he said. "It would be one of the cleanest if not the cleanest because it was going to use the latest technology available."