The Associated Press
TOPEKA, Kan. — Supporters of two coal-fired power plants failed Thursday to override Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ veto of a bill allowing the plants in southwest Kansas.
The vote in the House was 80-45, but supporters needed a two-thirds majority. They were four votes short.
“We have always known that we will someday face the fact that fossil fuels are a finite resource,” said Rep. Joshua Svaty, an Ellsworth Democrat who voted against overriding the veto. “The state of Kansas can do better.”
The Senate had voted Wednesday to overturn the veto.
The bill allows Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to build the two plants outside Holcomb, in Finney County, and limits the power of the secretary of health and environment.
Secretary Rod Bremby, a Sebelius appointee, denied an air-quality permit for Sunflower’s project in October because of the plants’ potential carbon dioxide emissions. Many scientists link such man-made greenhouse gases to global warming.
The House’s vote came after Sunflower’s top executive acknowledged that the new plants might not be enough to meet customers’ power needs after 2020.
But Sunflower’s project has bipartisan legislative support, partly because many lawmakers see it as economic development. They also noted that Sunflower’s new plants would be the cleanest in the state and said they would lead to even cleaner technology.
“We can be the leaders of the 21st century,” said Rep. Kenny Wilk, a Lansing Republican who supports the plants. “Launch this exciting journey into the future.”
Sebelius’ veto was sustained even though Sunflower’s allies brokered a deal to lure a few more votes. The deal, contained in a trailer bill, requires Sunflower to offer some of the power to other Kansas utilities not involved in its project.
“It provides some comfort to some folks,” said House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, an Ingalls Republican who supports the plants.
The trailer bill passed the Senate 27-6 on Wednesday. House members approved it 78-46 on Thursday, sending it to Sebelius.
“They’re trying to put more lipstick on the pig, and here it is,” said Rep. Annie Kuether, a Topeka Democrat who voted to sustain the governor’s veto.
It also would require the secretary of health and environment to draft the state’s first rules on carbon dioxide emissions and submit them to legislators for their review next year.
The measure is a response to some legislators’ worries about CO2 and to criticism that not enough of the power from the new plants would stay in Kansas. Sunflower is relying on two out-of-state partners to help finance the project, and they’d get 86 percent of the new power.
Earl Watkins Jr., Sunflower’s chief executive officer, said the share of power allocated to it and a sister utility, Midwest Energy Inc., will meet their needs now. But he acknowledged that Sunflower expects demand to outstrip the new generating capacity after 11 or 12 years.
“In 2018, 2019, 2020, if our load grows as we anticipate it, we’ll be looking at an additional piece of generation whether it will be in our service territory, together with other utilities, outside the state of Kansas,” he said.
But Watkins also said: “It would be irresponsible today to pay for or claim or reserve an interest in the project for 10 or 15 years from now that we may not need.”
The trailer bill requires Sunflower to offer 14 percent of the new power to Kansas utilities not involved in its project, starting with the Board of Public Utilities in Kansas City. Wyandotte County’s legislative delegation has been split on Sunflower’s project.
That power would be taken from Sunflower’s partners, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc. of Westminster, Colo., and Golden Spread Electric Cooperative, in Amarillo, Texas. Those partners would still retain 72 percent of the power.
All Kansas utilities would be required to pay the state 2 cents a month for each electric meter, although legislators expect that utilities would pass the charge to their customers.
The $2.5 million raised each year would finance energy conservation efforts and research into clean energy.
That includes research by a private institute at a bioenergy center Sunflower has proposed outside Holcomb. The center would capture some CO2 from the new plants, use it to grow algae and convert the algae into biofuels.
Environmentalists and Sebelius have dismissed such efforts to win over reluctant legislators with “green” provisions.
And Kansas City’s BPU didn’t embrace the trailer bill, either. Lobbyist Joe Dick said legislators who support Sunflower’s project approached him Tuesday but wanted a quick answer. He said BPU would have to consider many issues, including the cost of the new power.
“To make that decision takes a lot more study — I’m talking weeks of study,” Dick said. “They gave me about six hours.”
The Associated Press
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