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Hearing held on coal-fired plant

By MICHAEL STRAND Salina Journal

Of the nearly 60 people who spoke at Wednesday afternoon’s public hearing regarding Sunflower Electric’s plans to expand its coal-fired power generating plant near Holcomb, those in favor of the plant outnumbered those opposed by three to one.

Wednesday’s hearing was one of three planned around the state, with the third in Garden City today. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is holding the public hearings as part of Sunflower’s application to build a new 895-megawatt plant.

In 2007, KDHE rejected a Sunflower application for two 700-megawatt plants in Holcomb; the company had earlier sought three 700-megawatt plants, for a total of 2,100 megawatts.

Nearly two dozen of those who spoke in favor of the new plant were members of pipefitter, plumber or boilermaker unions, or owned companies that are likely to get business if the plant is approved.

Bill Petty, a pipefitter from Manhattan, was among those who took issue with what opponents say are merely temporary jobs building the new plant; Sunflower estimates 1,900 workers would have a hand in building the $3 billion facility.

Petty described his decades as a pipefitter, saying he’d worked on coal plants, chemical plants, refineries, schools and hospitals.

“I’ve made a full-time career out of temporary jobs,” he said.

He also took issue with people dismissing such jobs as belonging in the past, saying he and people with similar jobs don’t just build coal plants, but also schools, and the piping that transports gasses in hospitals.

He also stressed he’s not opposed to “green” jobs — and put a solar water-heating system in his house in 1986 — but that relying on green jobs isn’t practical.

“We’d like to work on green jobs, but no one’s investing $3 billion in wind and solar in Kansas,” he said.

Many other potential workers on the new plant — from across Kansas, and from Pueblo, Colo., and Houston — talked about the changes they’ve seen in coal-burning technology in the past few decades.

Those from Salina who spoke were generally opposed, and focused on the environmental effects — though many also brought up economic issues, saying building a wind farm with the same capacity would create more jobs.

Building a new coal plant would “hinder the development of wind energy in Kansas,” said Jerry Brown, of Salina.

Brown acknowledged the primary criticism of wind power — no wind, no power — by citing examples of large scale developments of widelyscattered but connected wind farms in the eastern United States, which have shown that the wind is always blowing somewhere.

Allowing a new coal-fired plant, in the middle of some of the best potential wind power in the country “is the stupidest thing the state could do,” Brown concluded.

Several supporters mentioned the comfort provided by the air conditioning in the Kansas Highway Patrol’s auditorium, where the hearing was conducted, and said coal is the best way to provide steady, reliable “baseload” power.

Sunflower president and CEO Earl Watkins, one of the last to speak, said his company isn’t biased in favor of coal, currently gets 10 percent of its power from wind, and is working to develop biomass power, as well.

“Is coal the answer for everything? No, it’s not,” Watkins said, making the assessment for other energy sources, including natural gas, wind and biomass.

Salinan David Norlin responded to those praising the air conditioning in the auditorium by saying his granddaughter was shivering, and suggesting it wasn’t necessary to keep the room cold enough for people to be comfortable in suit jackets.

“We can live without this coal plant,” said Salinan Gerald Gillespie. “We can’t live without clean air and water.”

n Reporter Mike Strand can be reached at 822-1418 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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