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More Farm Bill Surprises: Could Speed Up Construction of Coal Plant

Photo: Sunflower Power Plant in Holcomb, KS. Courtesy: Sunflower Electric Corporation
Photo: Sunflower Power Plant in Holcomb, KS. Courtesy: Sunflower Electric Corporation
July 26, 2013

WESTMINSTER, Colo. – A new coal-fired power plant could be a byproduct of the Farm Bill.

A provision in the bill would eliminate a court-ordered environmental review of the Sunflower Electric Plant located in Holcomb, Kansas, 50 miles southeast of Colorado's border.

It could supply 400,000 Coloradans with electricity that some say the state doesn't need, along with the toxins that coal plants generate.

Although it has a Kansas address, Sarah Saylor, senior legislative representative with the environmental law firm Earthjustice, says wind-born pollution will affect Colorado's air and water.

"If you're going to be benefiting from the power that's produced,” she says, “you need to be sure that these facilities are as clean as they can be."

Supporters of the power plant say it will bring $2 billion in economic activity to the region and reduce the danger of brownouts.

In Sunflower's permit application, the company says it would offer most of the energy generated to Tri-State Energy based in Westminster, a Denver suburb.

According to its current Electric Resource Plan filed with the state, Tri-State says it doesn't need additional power generated from coal.

The Kansas plant is overseen by the Rural Utilities Service that falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Saylor says this issue is one example of why Coloradans and the rest of the country need to pay close attention to what's happening in Washington.

"Even with a bill so big as the Farm Bill,” she says, “it still makes sense for the public to try and stay on top of what our elected officials are doing."

In addition to concerns over environmental oversight of the proposed plant, Saylor points out that Sunflower Electric owes hundreds of millions of dollars to the federal government.

Eleven years ago, the taxpayer-funded Rural Utilities Service agreed to forgive a portion of Sunflower's debt to help it secure funding to build this additional facility.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - CO