Sunflower Electric Power Corp. on Dec. 16 was notified that the Prevention of Significant Deterioration air quality construction permit for its 895-MW Holcomb expansion project was approved by Acting Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) John Mitchell. The permit is expected to be issued by the end of the year.

The decision allows Sunflower to proceed with construction of a coal-fueled unit that has been the subject of long-running contention. And, as the Kansas City Star noted, "Sunflower would benefit greatly if the permit is issued before Jan. 1, when new rules would force the utility to install greenhouse gas pollution controls that will add tens of millions of dollars to the price of the proposed plant in western Kansas."

Given the impact of that timing, some question whether the overtime logged by KDHE staff on this matter was entirely voluntary. Adding to such speculation was the fact that "former state Health Department chief Roderick Bremby was suddenly ousted last month even though he would have most likely left the job when newly elected Gov. Sam Brownback takes office on Jan. 10 — 10 days after Sunflower’s deadline had passed," the Star noted.

Since former governor Kathleen Sibelius, who opposed the plant, was tapped to become the Obama administration’s secretary of health and human services, her successor, Mark Parkinson, has worked to make the plant a reality.

The company’s release about the decision notes that "Sunflower initially filed an application in 2006 for three 700-megawatt units. In 2009, as a result of a bi-partisan compromise, Sunflower was able to resume the permitting process for the current 895-megawatt project. Since 2006, the KDHE has hosted seven public hearings and had more than 200 days open for public comments."

Sunflower is owned by six distribution cooperatives that serve 400,000 members throughout central and western Kansas. The $2.2 billion project will take approximately 52 months to build.

Sources: Sunflower Electric Power Corp., Kansas City Star, POWERnews