Monday, May 4, 2009

Kansas Governor and Sunflower Electric Power Reach Agreement on Contentious Coal Plant

Kansas Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson and the Sunflower Electric Power Corp. this afternoon announced agreement on a plan that will allow Sunflower to construct an 895 megawatt coal-fired plant near Holcomb in western Kansas.

In exchange for securing the governor's approval, Sunflower agreed to immediately build a 179 megawatt windfarm, in the near future deploy an additional 39 megawatts of wind power, and construct two transmission lines to allow the electricity to flow outside of Kansas.

The standoff between the state of Kansas and Sunflower had become one of the country's most contentious power plant battles when former Kansas Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (who was recently confirmed as Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama Administration, thus putting into motion the elevation of Mr. Parkinson to governor) ordered the State Department of Health and Environment to deny Sunflower's initial 2007 proposal for a two-unit, 1,400 megawatt coal-fired project because of the increased carbon emissions that would result.

Subsequently, the Republican-dominated Kansas Legislature approved four separate bills that would have allowed the project to go ahead only to see Ms. Sebelius veto each one.

As recently as mid-April, Ms. Sebelius vetoed the fourth bill and said, "What was a bad idea last year is an even worse idea today. Kansas needs legislation that will increase development of our renewable energy resources, increase energy efficiency measures and create good-paying jobs," according to The Kansas City Star ("Sebelius Vetoes Coal Plant Bill for the Fourth Time," April 13, 2009).

However, with Ms. Sebelius out of the way, Sunflower worked with Gov. Parkinson, who interestingly enough was a former chairman of the state Republican Party before he switched parties before 2004 to run with Ms. Sebelius, to reach a deal.

In announcing the agreement, Gov. Parkinson said, "Prior to this agreement, the Legislature was at an impasse on energy issues. With this agreement, we can start to move forward," The Topeka Capital Journal reported ( "Governor Makes Coal Deal," May 4, 2009).

While Sunflower was pleased, local environmentalists were not. Would the deal have been struck had Ms. Sebelius not left Topeka? Probably not. On the other hand, Gov. Parkinson, who has already said he will not run for election in November 2008, apparently looked at the project from a more "flexible perspective" and was willing to reach a deal.

Republican legislators lavished praise on their former state chairman. Could Gov. Parkinson pull an "Arlen Specter" (one of Pennsylvania's two U.S. senators who switched from the Republican to Democratic parties last week) in reverse and switch back to the Republican Party?

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