More good political news

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment denied a permit to Sunflower Electric Power, blocking construction of a massive power plant.

“I believe it would be irresponsible to ignore emerging information about the contribution of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to climate change and the potential harm to our environment and health if we do nothing,” DHE Secretary Rod Bremby said.

From its position in western Kansas, the plant’s mercury, particulate and carbon emissions would have directly influenced air quality throughout the state, while the power itself would have been sold to Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas. The annual 11 million tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere would contribute to the sorts of climactic shifts which are already shifting crop patterns and wild species’ ranges.

Governor Sebelius and her cabinet were slow to act on this permit, and it has been difficult to assess what political calculus was under way. I’ve suggested before that she might make controversial moves if she hoped for a cabinet appointment or if she were angling for the VP nomination, while she might be more cautious if her plans were to focus on the Senate seat Sam Brownback claims he’ll vacate in 2010. She made the right decision here, but ran out the clock on the process. The real measure of her leadership will be shown by how heavily she works to improve energy efficiency and construction of a renewable power supply for the state. With careful planning, Kansas could be exporting wind-generated electricity.

And speaking of Sam Brownback, he is apparently out of the presidential race, following his failure to get any traction, nor, more importantly, donations.


  1. #1 Kevin V
    October 19, 2007

    This is good (and politically interesting) news, but one correction: the coal plant wouldn’t have had any effect on weather. It would be nice if this action fomented a push for wind out there, though. With a new wind generator manufacturing facility not very far away in northeastern Colorado, it makes even more sense for Kansas to push for a facility out there.

  2. #2 carlsonjok
    October 19, 2007

    The real measure of her leadership will be shown by how heavily she works to improve energy efficiency and construction of a renewable power supply for the state

    Indeed and good luck. A similar plant was recently shot down in Oklahoma. Guess who was the primary financer of the anti-coal plant movement? None other than Chesapeake Energy, a major natural gas producer. It is fine to not allow coal, so long as there is a movement towards renewable energy sources. My big fear is that the movement towards wind power won’t move fast enough and the consumer will be put over a barrel by the natural gas companies.

  3. #3 Josh Rosenau
    October 20, 2007

    Two questions: Wouldn’t changes in climate also imply changes in weather? And haven’t added particulate emissions been associated with changing weather patterns? I was thinking along both lines when I wrote that, and would be glad to update the post if I was wrong.

  4. #4 Kevin V
    October 21, 2007

    Well, climate is the average of weather, so when you’re talking about the climate changing it has changed because the weather did. But the weather is not going to change in Kansas because of two power plants in Kansas (you said, “carbon emissions would have directly influenced the weather and air quality throughout the state”). CO2 is a well- and rapidly-mixed gas, so we rarely think of it in regional terms, only in global terms. The CO2 from the plants doesn’t stay over KS long enough to effect weather, even if there was enough CO2 from the plants to affect weather there, and there wouldn’t be. On a global scale, the incremental fraction of CO2 added to the global atmosphere by those two plants won’t by themselves have any effect on weather anywhere.

    As far as particulates, the plants would be required under the Clean Air Act to conform to the Most Achievable Control Technology standards (which is a very strict standard) in controlling mercury and particulates, so they would have been releasing very little of either. It’s the older plants that are a problem; the problem with new plants is essentially the CO2, not the other stuff. And FWIW, aerosols from industrial processes actually act to cool, not warm, the atmosphere. Soot particulates warm the atmosphere, but soot (black carbon) wouldn’t be emitted in high volume from a brand new coal plant.

    Not that this should be seen as justifying the installation of a new coal plant! I don’t see why they couldn’t get 1400MW from wind out there.

  5. #5 Josh Rosenau
    October 21, 2007

    With the particulates I was thinking more in terms of changes in precipitation. It was a tenuous claim in any event, so I’ll strike it to avoid confusion. Thanks for the clarification.

  6. #6 dcwp
    October 24, 2007

    So what is the status of the wind farm that had been proposed for the Flint Hills? I know there were major objections raised to it ostensibly about danger to native birds of prey, but (being an ornothology know-nothing) I always found those to be specious.

    It has always seemed to me that Kansas refuses to embrace its natural gifts. 49th in tourism and a mediocre economy, yes. But changing that should focus on what’s unique. Things like eco-tourism to the Kanza prairie and the flint hills, billing the spectacular fall colors of the smoky hills (far better than New England’s trees to my mind), and the huge kinetic energy in Kansas weather. But no, Kansans apologize for not having trees or mountains and talk about building a Disney park at Sunflower and a new coal plant instead. Pfft.

New comments have been disabled.