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Judge to Tri-State: Not So Fast on Sunflower Expansion

February 6, 2012

HOLCOMB, Kan. - A federal district judge has put the brakes on development of the controversial Sunflower coal-fired power plant expansion in far western Kansas, about 60 miles east of the Colorado border.

The expansion would provide power to Colorado-based rural energy co-ops via Tri-State. The judge's ruling last week found that the proposed expansion couldn't continue until Sunflower and Tri-State complete a full environmental impact statement.

Jan Hasselman, an Earthjustice attorney, says the investigation would not only consider the potential pollution impacts but also look at alternatives to coal-fired power.

"The court has recognized that that support and oversight triggers an obligation to do some environmental review and bring the public into this decision."

Sunflower spokeswoman Cinthia Hertel said the company is reviewing the decision and its implications. The plant is also facing a lawsuit in Kansas state court, challenging the legality of the approval process. It's anticipated hearings on that lawsuit will begin later this spring.

Scott Allegrucci, senior campaign representative with the Sierra Club "Beyond Coal" campaign, says the court documents revealed that Tri-State would own all of the power produced by the plant - even though there's no evidence the company actually needs the electricity.

"Tri-State has put at least $60 million into the project in Kansas. They own it. It will be phased for the Western grid."

Allegrucci adds that rates will be buffered against increases by the expansion, but only in Kansas.

"That's one reason this is a great deal, in some ways, for Sunflower's books if not Sunflower's ratepayers. It's a lot harder for us to understand how that's a good deal for Tri-State ratepayers."

Colorado's Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act requires that coal-fired power plants reduce emissions by 80 percent in the state and utilities move to cleaner energy sources. However, the law wouldn't apply to power coming in from other states.

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO