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October 05, 2013 04:04 PM UTC

The 'Tolling of the Bell' for Sunflower?

  • by: MichaelBowman

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

On Friday the Kansas Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, invalidated the air pollution permit granted to Sunflower Electric Power Corporation for their proposed Holcomb coal plant. This is a significant development in what has become a series of [failed] attempts by Sunflower, who is nothing more than a proxy for Tri-State Generation and Transmission, to construct what would be one of the last coal plants in the United States.  This, on the heels of a U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in May  rejecting a plea from Sunflower to overturn a 2012 federal judge's ruling that put the project on hold. The decision ordered the Rural Utilities Service, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to complete an environmental study before deciding whether to grant federal consent for the new unit.

Even in light of this latest judicial spanking, the Sunflower Electric response is "it will continue to take the steps necessary to preserve and advance the project."

Sunflower is  plagued with financial challenges and owes hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-subsidized loans. Today, they seek forgiveness of portions of the loan principal so that private financing for this project can be secured; they are also attempting to circumvent due process through an amendment to the pending Farm Bill.  Even before a single shovel of earth is turned, financing and environmental compliance challenges should be ringing every bell in the proverbial "fire house".

The construction of this plant wouldn't be plausible at all if it weren't for Tri-State committing the purchasing power of its Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska & New Mexico rate payers to the Kansas project.

Smoking?There is nothing cheap about coal. And there is an irony in the region's claim they are "fiercely independent". When you need the loan forgiveness of the American taxpayer to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars and the circumvention of the financial and judicial process to build a plant that you tout to your members as "cheap", perhaps its time to step back from the Kool-Aid and ask ones self the hard questions.

This is great news for renewable energy advocates on both sides of the Kansas line. Today 2.3 gigawatts of wind stand tall on the eastern plains of Colorado, providing much-needed tax base to our rural communities. These wind farm developments provide jobs and significant new tax base in our rural areas, important manufacturing jobs on the Front Range – and are the cheapest source of new power in the grid today.

The rejection of Holcomb, and the embrace of a changing energy paradigm by Tri-State would mean we on the eastern plains have only seen the tip of the iceberg of "what's possible".  It's time to end the faux media campaign, the "War on Rural Colorado".  It's patently false.  Our real enemy is a Kansas coal plant –  the one thing standing between a future where rural Colorado is chained to decades of a 19th-century power supply – or one where we become a full participant in Colorado's "Innovation Economy".  A future where we no longer dig for our fuel supplies – our energy will fall free from above and across the prairie; a future where our energy costs are no longer ever-increasing and volatile, but free.  A future where our grid is distributed, resilient and secure

A senior member of the "Beyond Coal" campaign summed up the Supreme Court decision best: “The proposed Holcomb coal plant is now a fading mirage on the plains."


11 thoughts on “The ‘Tolling of the Bell’ for Sunflower?

  1. Ding dong, the plant is dead!

    Thanks for this thoughtful post, Michael.  Our state and nation need more people in political leadership who profoundly understand our energy, natural resource, environmental and economic challenges, as you clearly do.

    1. Thanks Duke and BC – perhaps someday.  In the meantime, let's buy some popcorn and get ready for the "Orville Redenbacher Classic", formerly known as the Quiznos Pro Challenge and officially known as the 2014 Republican primary.  I'm waiting with anxious anticipation for the first Brophy commercial where he's on a mountain incline, crouched on his cabon fibre racing bike, speeding by Tom T. – who is frantically peddling his electric-assist bike made in a sweat shop somewhere beyond our borders, near exhaustion.  And they aren't even half-way up the hill. That will become a metaphor or how the Colorado economy would differ under the two administrations.  But the commercial will leave everyone wondering this

    2. Yesterday's Pueblo Chieftain ran an Associated Press article on rural energy. It was a nice, often-neglected glimpse into the pioneers in rural America who are embracing a new energy future. The article focuses on the spirit of a 70-year old farmer who has installed solar panels on his Illinois farm – to the chagrin of his wife.

      The future for the continued support of ag-related energy programs through USDA looks dim: the House majority is playing hand-maiden to the fossil-fuel interests on Capitol Hill that own the hallowed halls. This, an industry that has been the beneficiariy to the tune of $630 billion in subsidies to date. This, an industry that enjoys the ONLY permanent, energy tax credits in the US tax code.

      A 2011 Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that 74% of Americans support “eliminating tax credits for the oil and gas industries”. According to a recent Gallup Poll, nearly the same percentages of Americans support further expansion of the wind and solar industries. Yet, the corporate dollars choking Capitol Hill deliver us a much different outcome to an anxious John Q. Public.

      Without a hint of irony, the "American Energy Alliance", founded by Thomas Pyle,  former Koch lobbyist and staffer to Congressman Tom Delay Thomas Pyle, made this statement through their spokesman regarding the continuation of wind and solar tax credits:

      "The last thing we need is the federal government injecting itself into the system.”

      So, there you go. The Koch Brothers, who have gathered billions in taxpayer subsides and have funded the majority of the suicide caucus in the House, have decided there should be no more subsidies for wind and solar development. Because, you know, the government "shouldn't be involved".

      In today's Washington, the climate is hostile for any program without stout political backing and with opposition from other interests. Unfortunately, for the citizens of eastern Colorado's CD4 we have the worst of both worlds: our Congressman seems to care not a whit about the USDA program that supports rural energy – and he is one of the largest political benefactors of Koch, Inc.'s largess.

      It should come as no surprise that the House version of the Farm Bill limits the program to $45 million and designates it as "discretionary".  Which is Washington-speak" these days for "not going to happen".

    1. Tri-State has expended tens-of-millions of rate-payer dollars into this now fatally-flawed project – so they aren't going down easy. They were banking on a favorable decision; the Kanas high court was one of their last hopes for a plausible path forward.  They're still attempting to "undo" the May decision by the US District Court of Appeals via the House-passed amendment to the pending Farm Bill.  The Senate conferees [which include Senator Bennet] are aware they will have to address the amendment in conference.  So "technically" it isn't "dead" – just like "technically" there are "300 years of domestic coal" reserves for the taking.  As the economics and geology of coal mining are driving an end to the "coal era", the economics and changing nature of the nation's coal-fired power sector would lead any prudent executive tasked with fiduciary duty to his/her members to conclude the Holcomb fiasco "is over". 

      Again, if it weren't for Tri-State committing their balance sheet and purchasing power of its Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and New Mexico ratepayers, this project would have never have seen the light of day in the first place.

  2. Great diary! I know a few folk in KS however that see this as the feds harming KS. After all the company is called Sunflower so many think it is to allow affordable elec for rural KSans

    1. Why is it that a "Red State American" can always find a way to make this about the very federal government that subsidizes their everyday everyday lives?  I've really had to restrain my tongue this week as I'm watching the pontificating of Congressman Tim Huelskamp (KS-1) regarding "government spending out of control" and his support of the shutdown.  These folks have absolutely no boudaries around their hypocrisy.  His district has received $9.06 billion in farm subsidies over the past decade. 

      Not surprisingly, it's Huelskamp who is the ring leader on the amendment to the Farm Bill that's attempting to effectively nullify due process as mandated as by the US Federal Court decision in May. (Holcomb is in his district).  So, add up the billions in federal subsidies his district receives (and btw, just 10% of all farms in his district took 67% of the $9 billion) – and the fact they have to be granted loan forgiveness on existing federal loans to even make the Holcomb financial model plausible – all one can really do is laugh.  And then cry.  And then summarily dismiss anything that falls out of his mouth.

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