Coal power: Sunflower’s big victory is owed to Gov. Parkinson

By Rod Haxton, editor

After a very long legal battle, Sunflower has finally been given the green light by the Kansas Supreme Court to build a coal plant near Holcomb.

Perhaps we’ll soon get word that buggy whips are making a comeback, along with eight-track tape players.

This prolonged legal fight has involved the electric utility, the Sierra Club, the EPA, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the executive branch of our state government over whether or not the coal plant would comply with federal air quality standards.

Sunflower says it can now meet those standards and apparently the court agrees.

For some, this is seen as a long-awaited victory.

The real victory came late in the administration of former Gov. Mark Parkinson. In 2009, he reached an agreement with Sunflower to reduce the size of its proposed Holcomb plant and to generate 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020.

While it was felt, at the time, that Parkinson had sold out to the coal industry, it proved to be a very astute move politically, environmentally and economically.

The former government was effective in limiting the carbon footprint of the coal plant and in pushing his desire to expand renewable energy in the state. And, as difficult as it may be for Republicans and Sunflower to admit, the delay was probably a blessing for the utility’s stockholders and ratepayers.

Forget the fantasy of “clean coal.”

The fact is that natural gas is a cheaper and cleaner burning fuel. Had construction begun on the Holcomb plant 8-10 years ago, ratepayers would have been stuck with retiring the debt on a white elephant.

Maybe a coal plant made some sense 10 or 20 years ago. That is no longer true today with an abundant supply of cheap natural gas.


Sunflower is a big winner. Perhaps the company should send a “thank you” card to former Gov. Parkinson.

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