A controversial coal-fired power plant planned for Holcomb, Kansas, is the reason Tri-State Generation is even thinking about a nuclear energy option. After Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed a bill authorizing the $3.6 billion coal project, because of its effects on climate (11 million tons/year CO2), the power company is thinking of turning to the only other option it has to deliver electricity to meet base load demand in its service area. Meanwhile it still wants the coal plant and is hastening to assure startled residents in Holly, CO, that nuclear energy is just at the talking stage for now.
What is significant that the threat of more fossil fueled green house gas emissions has promoted a sitting governor to spend political capital, click her ruby slippers together, and say, with an emphasis on saving the planet, "there's no place like home."
Even with this sequence of events in place, Tri-State's position on the nuclear option is an emphatic "not so fast" in response to questions from customers and the press.
The coal plant is the result of a proposed partnership between Tri-State, based in Westminster, CO, and Sunflower Electric, based in Hays, KS. The plan is to build two 700 MW coal burning power plants near Holcomb, KS. That plan has been turned on its head by opposition from Gov. Sebelius and despite legislative and court challenges, still hasn't left the drawing board. Last year the Kansas Department of Health & Environment denied an air quality permit for the project.
Tri-state sells electricity to 44 rural cooperatives that serve 1.4 million people in four states (CO, NM, NB, WY). The region needs more electricity, and Tri-state has told its staff to take a look at nuclear energy with a potential site in southeastern Colorado near Holly, CO. Lee Boughey, a spokesman for the power company, told the Lawrence, KS, World News, "We're looking at the long term. We need to evaluate different resources."
That doesn't mean the company has made a decision to build a nuclear power plant in Colorado or anywhere else. What's interesting is that coal has been the fuel source of choice for generating electricity for as long as there have been power plants in Kansas and Colorado. That's why the company is still trying to find a way to build the Holcomb project. If the regulatory and political issues can be overcome, and construction begins this year, the first units would be operational in 2012
Not so fast with nuclear
For this reason Tri-State took some pains to get a message to the news media late last week. It is that "talk about a nuclear power plant being constructed near Holly is premature," says Jim Van Someren of Tri-State. He told the Lamar, CO, Daily a wire service story that ran earlier this month took two unrelated facts and mashed them together. That's a mistake he says. The fact that Tri-State purchased water rights near Holcomb for a new power plant, likely the much beat upon coal project, is unrelated to the power company's board telling the staff to look into nuclear energy options.
“The potential is wide open for any source of technology, we haven’t decided on anything yet,” Van Someren said. He said the firm is exploring several different technology options for the proposed plant including coal gasification, natural gas, nuclear and traditional coal fired technologies.
“If we were going to start the permitting process right now, we’d definitely be going with coal,” Von Someren said. He said the board “directed Tri-State staff to pursue potential partners” for a nuclear facility. He emphasized that, "Staff members will be contacting regional utilities and power suppliers to explore the potential for partnerships but that no other measures are being taken at this time."
Energy options abound like sunflowers in June
Town leaders in rural Holly, CO, were pretty surprised by the wire service story that said a $2 billion nuclear power plant was going to be built in their community. Officials in Prowers County told the Pueblo Chieftan newspaper a 1,000 MW plant would be a huge addition to the area's tax base. Linda Fairbarin said beyond that it was too early to make any judgements about the plant. She pointed out the county is expanding its energy sources with two new wind farms.
Coal is still king and there is no magic in the decision by power companies to go for it. The Arkansas River Authority will increase the capacity of the Lamar coal-fired power plant to 39 MW from 25 MW by switching the boiler from natural gas to coal. Prowers County Commissioner Gene Millbrand said the coal plant will be "fairly well received" because the power firm has invested in public education about emissions.
Back in Kansas Stephanie Cole, a spokesperson for the Sierra Club, said that Tri-State should promote energy conservation and renewable energy sources such as wind. However, across the border in Colorado, Millbrand said he didn't think that is the right answer.
"The bottom line is that the consumers need energy. Wind and green energy are excellent, but they are not available every day and night, so we know there has to be some alternative source besides wind or solar.
With regard to an option for a nuclear power plant, he said, "there is no sense speculating on whether a nuclear facility would be welcomed by residents in this county until we have more data."
"I was surprised to hear the a nuclear plant was now on the table. Whatever works best for everybody is what we need to look at," Millbrand said.