By TREVOR GOFF
KHI News Service
TOPEKA — Kansas utility officials and state environmental regulators say they remain uncertain of the consequences from expected new federal air quality regulations, particularly with respect to Hays-based Sunflower Electric’s efforts to build a new, 895-megawatt generating unit at its coal-fired power plant in Holcomb, near Garden City.
Tom Gross, air monitoring and planning chief for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said agency officials don’t know yet the exact language of the standards EPA will propose — probably by June — but that they know the possibilities.
“They’re not going to give us a rule that says do this, this and this,” Gross said. “They’re going to give us a framework and say here are some means by which you can do that.”
Gross said the new rules might include new energy efficiency requirements for generation infrastructure, transmission system improvements and a focus on renewable energy.
Gross spoke at a hearing today held by the House Energy and Environment Committee.
Also today, KDHE officials announced they are accepting public comment on an addendum to the permit they issued for Sunflower to build the new generator. The addendum was the result of a court decision that sent the permit back to agency for retooling after its challenge by an environmental group.
The proposed modified permit was posted today by KDHE, which will accept comments on it through Feb. 19:
• email at SunflowerComments@kdheks.gov,
• mail to Christy Thurman, KDHE Bureau of Air, 1000 SW Jackson, Ste. 310, Topeka, KS 66612-1366, or
• in person at a public hearing scheduled for 5 p.m. Feb. 19 in the Garden City High School Auditorium (map).
The Kansas Supreme Court ruled this fall that KDHE’s original permit didn’t adhere to federal clean air regulations.
The ruling stemmed from a 2011 lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club alleging the air quality permit for the facility was the result of a tainted process after then-Gov. Mark Parkinson struck a deal with Sunflower to settle the company’s lawsuit against the state filed after KDHE’s initial rejection of the company’s permit request in 2007.
EPA is scheduled to issue new proposed standards for electrical generation plants in June 2014. But a September 2013 draft proposal set an emission limit of 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour of generation, which several legislators voiced concern about during the hearing.
EPA seeks a 17 percent cut in carbon pollution from 2005 levels by 2020. The goal, included in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, has officials looking for ways to better regulate emissions.
“They have always regulated inside the fence,” of electrical generating stations, said Wayne Penrod, executive manager of environmental policy for the Sunflower Electric Cooperative. “The problem is they can’t get 17 percent by regulating inside the fence so they have to be expansive in thinking about how they can get more.”
Penrod said that could include adding existing wind energy units to utility portfolios and programs assisting consumers improve energy efficiency in their homes, but that regulating those kinds of programs would be costly and difficult.
Gross said KDHE’s Air Bureau is working on a comment letter to EPA asking for state flexibility in determining how the federal standards are to be met so that utilities aren’t put in the position of finding it impossible to comply with new regulations.
“They need to make sure that they…address how the state agencies can deal with say an existing unit that just dropped several million dollars into improving a thirty-year old power plant. Don’t come out with a rule that gives that plant no opportunity to comply with the rule.
“I tell you what,” he said. “It’s a tough question to answer because we don’t have a rule to react to. Until then it’s just total speculation.”