The ‘Sunflower Conundrum’, Chapter 2

This past week marked the inaugural meeting of the Governor's task force that will monitor the implementation of SB13-252, the renewable energy mandate placed on rural electric coops in the 2013 legislative session.  A significant opportunity to bring a renaissance to rural Colorado – masquerading as a 'War on Rural Colorado'.  A fake war.  An imagined war whose only casualties will be those who continue to bet on 19th century technology and refuse to adapt to a new world.  A world that is moving from centralization to de-centralization of energy generation.  An effort led by the United States Department of Defense, and ironically piloted right here in Colorado

I've written before on the folly of this Kansas project.  A project that has the effect of Tri-State committing their balance sheet – which is by default the balance sheet of every rural cooperative in Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico – to a plant in Kansas.  In a territory not served by Tri-State.  A project that will chain rural electric members to last-centuries technology and its ever-increasing costs for decades.  A project that will displace the vast opportunities awaiting rural Colorado communities.

It's no secret that Tri-State has spent tens of millions of dollars since 2006 to see this plant become a reality. In the process they now own the water rights to over 37,000 acres of prime farmland below John Martin reservoir for the sole purpose of producing energy via coal and nuclear plants.  As a resident of the Tri-State territory from a multi-generational farm family, there are few things that are more repulsive to my soul than the drying up of some of the most productive farm land in the state for the purposes of electrical generation.  It is the worst of both worlds:  ending the productivity from the land and the resultant local economic activity – to build a 19th century generation asset that could be easily displaced by 21st century technology that does not place additional demands on our agricultural water. 

While the SB-252 Implementation Task Force begins their work on a roadmap to reach their now-mandated goal, Tri-State is busy behind the scenes in Washington trying to amend federal law so the proposed and ill-fated Holcomb coal plant can be built.  They are hard at work getting the House to undo the recent decision in the federal courts regarding the proposed Holcomb coal plant. They are attempting to modify Section 5206 of the Farm Bill (HR 2642). This proposed change is directly targeted at the RUS NEPA opinion, and would let Tri-State/Sunflower move ahead with Holcomb without any NEPA review by RUS. This provision would apply more broadly as well.

Here are their proposed changes:

SEC. 5206

Certain Federal actions not to be considered major:

In the case of a loan, loan guarantee, or grant program in the rural development mission area of the Department of Agriculture, an action of the Secretary before, on, or after the date of enactment of this Act that does not involve the provision by the Department of Agriculture of Federal dollars or a Federal loan guarantee, including-
(1) the approval by the Department of Agriculture of the decision of a borrower to commence a privately funded activity;
(2) a lien accommodation or subordination;
(3) a debt settlement or restructuring; or
(4) the restructuring of a business entity by a borrower,shall not be considered a major Federal action.

Call the offices of Senators Bennet and Udall and the Congressional offices of Gardner and Tipton. Tell them to side with rural jobs and to reject the proposed changes to Sec. 5206 in Conference. We don't need a multi-billion dollar investment in 19th century technology in an adjoining state. Our focus should be squarely on rural Colorado – and the significant opportunities for the rural areas that is being masqueraded as a 'war'. A fake war whose only victims will be those who choose to stay wedded to last centuries mindset.

6 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. MADCO says:

    please confirm if my plain English understanding is close…

    electrical co-ops, which provide service to large areas of Colorado, would buy commit to buy their electricity from a coal (or nuke) plant in west Kansas.  If they do not ocmmit- the plant will not get built.

    Tri-State in particular wants the plant to be built, and so does not want to invest at all into the now mandated by law other sources.  Rather than follow the law, they are trying to change the law.

    • MichaelBowman says:

      Very good, grasshopper!  Yes, the plant can not be built without Tri-State's commitment to buy the power.  If you drill in to my link regarding '….the folly' there is a lot of detail surrounding the financial [non]well-being of Sunflower.

      Back in 2005 they were being too cute by half:  their Board chair at the time, little Hub Thompson, was going to show the Colorado environmental community who was the real boss.  He knew he couldn't get a plant built in Colorado – so he lead the board to a decision to build just over the state line.  And coincidnetally, Sunflower was looking for ways to recover from their series of financial mis-steps that effectively put them in to receivership by the RUS.  To date they have spent [or blown, depending upon your perspective] tens of millions of dollars.  As a member of one of their cooperatives with a Capital Account I'd like to tap someday – their fiduciary responsiblity should be called in to question.

    • MichaelBowman says:

      Sunflower Electric owes hundreds of millions of dollars to the federal government and has been bailed out from the brink of bankruptcy multiple times. In 2002, the federal Rural Utilities Service agreed to write off hundreds of millions of dollars of Sunflower’s taxpayer debt so that the company would appear financially stable enough to attract private funding for a new coal burning power plant in Kansas. A federal court in D.C. held that the federal agency had to take a close look at the project’s health and environmental impacts before giving away such a huge sum of taxpayer dollars. It’s a close look that this project can’t survive—it doesn’t even meet the federal standards for dangerous pollutants like mercury and ozone constituents. Section 5206 in the Farm Bill would retroactively undo this already-decided case and would shield Sunflower’s squandered federal dollars and poor project planning from badly-needed oversight.

      I can only hope that this proposed change via the House-passed farm bill didn't originate from the offices of my avowed conservative Congressman. If so, we're going to have to re-define 'conservative'.  I'm going to stop taking his attacks on Solyndra "cum grano salis"…

    • MichaelBowman says:

      Madco – to make things worse, if it had gone by regular order, there would be a committee report available that would 'shed the light' on who included this provision.  This version of the Farm Bill violated every House rule known to man.  They waived their self-imposed 3-day rule [with an affirmative vote from Congressman Gardner] and told their caucus there were no changes.  And twisted arms on the House floor during the vote to the point of breakage.

      Since it didn't go by regular order and there is no committee report out it will be impossible to detect fingerprints on that provision unless a House republican ag staffer were to confess voluntarily.  That isn't going to happen. So for now we can play the game of 'elimination'…which isn't that hard to do.  But all it gives us is circumstantial evidence.

  2. SaveAgLand says:

    Mike–How long is Tri-State going ride this dead horse? I would think the final poison pill is EPA's New Source Performance Standards that would require Holcum to sequester its carbon.

    • MichaelBowman says:

      Their current plan seems to be to make enough noise about SB252 and pretend they might make it 'go away' in the next session that they could convince someone in the legislature or the Gov's office to give them an extended period of time to 'comply'.  All the while, trying to keep the Holcombplant plausibly alive. 

      This latest attempt to find an end-around via the Farm Bill is a desperate attempt to try and keep all of the balls in the air.  And hope the Republicans take the Governors office in 2014.  Remember, they've been doubling down on 'stupid' since the 2006 Ritter gubernatorial campaign.  And each time they do, their failed bets [they're batting 1.000]  gets expotentially more expensive for its cooperative members. 

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