I can’t tell you how many times I have watched coal trains lumber across the Kansas Plains stretched out for miles like a monstrous strand of black licorice. I’ve sat in my car or rested on my bike watching and waiting for them to pass, but, sadly, not thinking. The time has come to do that. Without much thought I have watched those trains and never really pondered from where that coal comes and how much damage that coal is doing to the air and water of our wondrous state. Let’s clear the air.
All Kansans should be thinking very hard about the future of our state and coal’s role in it. A permit for the construction of an 895 mega-watt coal plant near Holcomb in western Kansas is being considered. A public comment phase runs through August 15. Public hearings began Monday, August 2 in Overland Park. Others hearings will be held in Salina on August 4 and Garden City on August 5. The plant would be owned and operated by Sunflower Electric, but Tri-State Generation and Transmission in Colorado will have already claimed 85% of the energy for Colorado. They have craftily done this by directing roughly $52 million to Sunflower Electric to carry on the fight for a permit. The power would not be a revenue-generating export for Kansas and would have little effect on our bottom line.
If the Holcomb plant receives its permit, begins construction in 2016, as hoped, and goes on-line some years later, 3.4 million tons of coal would be burned every year. That would require over 30,000 train cars annually, or one full train every day. That is simply too much. Estimates are that our country’s coal reserves could be in serious decline in as little as 20 years.
Coal for the plant in Holcomb would come from Wyoming. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, Wyoming generated 803.6 million in severance revenue from the sale of coal. By pursuing use of Kansas’ abundant natural gas resources and advancing our use of wind energy, we can stop shipping our money west. In the process of putting more Kansans to work, we also can strengthen our economy and create better schools, libraries and overall public funding in areas we Kansans all need.
According to information from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2, 700 MW of installed wind capacity at 44% capacity factor would create $7.2 million a year in direct payment to landowners, $7.8 million a year in PILOT revenue, 4,300 new jobs during construction with $508 million a year directly to local economies and 700 new permanent operation jobs generating $57 million a year. Combine those figures with the already extensive employment that comes with the use of our natural gas, Kansas would be in the enviable position of generating all the power Kansans need and reaping the financial benefits. These plants and wind generators could be up and running far sooner than any coal plant.
All the money involved pales though compared to the impact a move to cleaner energy would have on our state’s well being. Coal pollutes. Coal plants deplete our water resources. Both contribute to the need for growing concern over our environmental future. We cannot afford to turn our backs any longer to the realities of global warming. A report from the Physicians for Social Responsibility has stated that coal pollutants like carbon dioxide, mercury, particulate matter and nitrous oxide will cause damaging effects on respiratory, cardiovascular and nervous systems. The Holcomb plant would use 6,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water each year. A drive through western Kansas should make anyone aware of how precious water is to the farmers and ranchers of the area.
Remember the hearings currently underway deal with the need for an air quality permit. All the evidence given on both sides dealing with economic factors is meaningless. That is just the barter being used to overwhelm our thought process. Clean air is at issue right now. There are cheaper, safer and more state beneficial options that would have immediate impacts. None would be greater than the fact we would be assuring cleaner air for Kansans for decades to come.
In fairness, my daughter Kelly is at the forefront of this fight for clean energy with her work for the Great Plains Alliance for Clean Energy (GPACE.) Thanks to her and others, we Kansans are becoming more and more aware of the impact a coal plant would have on our state. Meanwhile, we continue to drag our feet over embracing cleaner and safer alternatives. I know I’ll never again sit in my car or rest on my bike as a coal train lumbers past and not think of the impact that black matter has had on us all.
We are already deeply reliant on coal in eastern Kansas. Sadly, those trains will keep coming. Let’s just make sure they don’t make a stop in western Kansas. Maybe someday they’ll just keep right on rolling through Kansas to other states not as farsighted as we can be here in Kansas. Now that would really be a great way to clear the air.
For further information, please go to the GPACE website here.