Holcomb Station

From Global Energy Monitor

Holcomb Station is a 348.7-megawatt (MW) coal-fired power station owned and operated by Sunflower Electric Power near Holcomb, Kansas.


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Plant Data

Plant expansion

In 2006 the company proposed a major expansion of the plant. See Holcomb Expansion for more details. The expansion got canceled in 2020 after the air permit expired.

Solar Development

Energynews.us reported on July 14, 2020 that Photosol US, a subsidiary of a French utility-scale solar developer, had acquired a lease option for a 2,400 acre area near the Holcomb Station to develop 2,125MW of utility-scale solar systems. The company applied to the Southwest Power Pool for interconnections for the project but did not receive approval at the moment of writing the article. The article stated that renewable power projects often fail because of the high costs for grid connections, thus the grid connections left by retiring coal plants can become big assets for renewable developers.[2]

Emissions Data

  • 2006 CO2 Emissions: 2,534,424 tons
  • 2006 SO2 Emissions: 1,154 tons
  • 2006 SO2 Emissions per MWh:
  • 2006 NOx Emissions: 3,926 tons
  • 2005 Mercury Emissions: 327 lb.

Death and disease attributable to fine particle pollution from the Holcomb Station

In 2010, Abt Associates issued a study commissioned by the Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization, quantifying the deaths and other health effects attributable to fine particle pollution from coal-fired power plants.[3] The study found that over 13,000 deaths and tens of thousands of cases of chronic bronchitis, acute bronchitis, asthma-related episodes and asthma-related emergency room visits, congestive heart failure, acute myocardial infarction, dysrhythmia, ischemic heart disease, chronic lung disease, peneumonia each year are attributable to fine particle pollution from U.S. coal-fired power plants. Fine particle pollution is formed from a combination of soot, acid droplets, and heavy metals formed from sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and soot. Among those particles, the most dangerous are the smallest (smaller than 2.5 microns), which are so tiny that they can evade the lung's natural defenses, enter the bloodstream, and be transported to vital organs. Impacts are especially severe among the elderly, children, and those with respiratory disease. Low-income and minority populations are disproportionately impacted as well, due to the tendency of companies to avoid locating power plants upwind of affluent communities.

The table below estimates the death and illness attributable to the Holcomb Station. Abt assigned a value of $7,300,000 to each 2010 mortality, based on a range of government and private studies. Valuations of illnesses ranged from $52 for an asthma episode to $440,000 for a case of chronic bronchitis.[4]

Table 1: Death and disease attributable to fine particle pollution from the Holcomb Station

Type of Impact Annual Incidence Valuation
Deaths 5 $35,000,000
Heart attacks 8 $820,000
Asthma attacks 85 $4,000
Hospital admissions 3 $82,000
Chronic bronchitis 3 $1,400,000
Asthma ER visits 5 $2,000

Source: "Find Your Risk from Power Plant Pollution," Clean Air Task Force interactive table, accessed February 2011

Holcomb (Sunflower) Plant Controversy

Kansas Coal Wars 3

October 2007, Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Rob Bremby denied a permit to regional wholesale power supplier Sunflower Electric Power Corporation to build two new power plants at its Holcomb Station, as part of the Holcomb Expansion, in western Kansas.[5] The decision set off a protracted battle between Governor Sebelius and the Kansas legislature, which attempted to override the veto. On March 21, 2008, Governor Sebelius vetoed a bill that would have permitted the power plants and stripped the Department of Health of the power to deny such permits in the future if they held utilities to standards stricter than those in the federal Clean Air Act permits for the construction of new coal-fired energy plants in Kansas. Sibelius said, "We know that greenhouse gases contribute to climate change. As an agricultural state, Kansas is particularly vulnerable. Therefore, reducing pollutants benefits our state not only in the short term – but also for generations of Kansans to come."[6]

Anti-Sebelius ad campaign

Following the October, 2007, decision by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, newspapers across Kansas ran an ad by Kansans for Affordable Energy that featured the faces of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The ad asked, “why are these men smiling?” The answer, according to the ad, was: "Because the recent decision by the Sebelius Administration means Kansas will import more natural gas from countries like Russia, Venezuela and Iran." Unmentioned in the ad, however, is the fact that Kansans for Affordable Energy is partially funded by Sunflower Electric Power Corp. and the Peabody Coal Company. Sunflower Electric is the company whose permits for new coal plants were rejected by Sebelius’s administration.[7]

The Washington Post characterized the ads as extremely misleading, since not only does Kansas not "currently export natural gas to other states,” but the U.S. doesn’t even “currently import natural gas from Russia, Venezuela or Iran.”[7]

Bob Kreutzer, a founder of Kansans for Affordable Energy, admitted that the link between Sebelius and Ahmadinejad, et al. may have been “a little bit extreme.”[7]

Sebelius called the ads “over the top nonsense,” adding: "Anyone who would associate our state with the controversial and disreputable world leaders pictured in this ad fundamentally misunderstands and disrespects the people of Kansas."[7]

Anti sebelius ad16.gif

Bill 2182

Introduced in 2009, Bill 2182 makes no mention of the Holcomb plant, but it would effectively strip Health Secretary Rob Bremby and the Department of Health and the Environment of their power to regulate industry based on air quality concerns, and therefore force them to grant the permits to Sunflower.[8]

Blogger Simran Sethi wrote:

Because of high disapproval rates around the building of new plants, the predominantly Republican legislature has been wary of casting a strictly pro-coal vote. But according to Scott Allegrucci of the Great Plains Alliance for Clean Energy (GPACE), Bill 2182 "is cleverly written to allow some legislators who sustained the 2008 vetoes to vote for the coal plants this time, while giving them the ability to tell their constituents that they only voted for 'regulatory certainty,' not coal plants." In Wednesday's discussion of the bill, proponent Amy Blankenbiller of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce stated, "We are not here today to talk about environmental regulation, but to talk about due process, regulatory process."[9]

On April 3, 2009, the bill was sent to the Governor's office for approval. Gov. Sebelius has vowed to veto the legislation. The bill fell 10 votes short of the number needed to override the anticipated veto. Lawmakers may attempt an override when they return for the legislative wrap-up session in late April.[10]

As expected, Governor Sebelius vetoed the legislation on April 13, 2009. In her comments, she said, "I encourage the legislature to abandon its efforts to saddle Kansas with massive new carbon dioxide emissions, and instead adopt a plan that will take advantage of our enormous wind assets and really look at energy efficiency as a way to stretch our power sources well into the future while creating thousands of sustainable Kansas jobs."[11]

New Governor reverses Sebelius's decisions

On May 4, 2009, in a reversal of former Governor Sebelius' position, new Governor Mark Parkinson announced an agreement with Sunflower Electric Power Corporation that will allow construction of an 895 MW plant. The proposal permits power from the Holcomb Station to be exported to electric cooperatives in Colorado and Texas, with about 200 MW remaining in Kansas. Under the agreement, which was brokered with no public knowledge and announced only once it was signed, Sunflower will attempt to reduce emissions by shutting several dirtier plants. The agreement also contains a provision sought by Sunflower and its allies to limit the Kansas Department of Health and Environment's power to regulate greenhouse gases and other pollutants. In exchange for allowing construction of Sunflower's coal plant, legislators are required to pass a bill enacting renewable energy measures sought by Parkinson.[12][13][14]

Parkinson immediately came under fire from fellow Democrats and environmentalists, who had long fought the Holcomb plant. Critics charged that although the new governor touted the concessions made by Sunflower, many were already planned by the utility before the deal was made. As part of the agreement, Sunflower must build two new transmission lines to help export Kansas wind energy westward; however, the company had already planned to build the new lines even before the compromise. Also as part of the agreement, Sunflower promised to decommission two outdated oil-fired power plants in Garden City, but according to the company, those oil burners have not been used in over two decades. The Parkinson deal also strips Kansas’s top regulator of the discretion he used to reject the plants in 2007, a change environmental groups say will make it easier for other utilities to build more coal plants in the state.[15]

Groups Challenge Holcomb Plant

On June 22, 2009, Earthjustice and the Kansas Sierra Club sent a letter to the Kansas Department of Health Environment calling for a public comment period on the revived Holcomb proposal. A Health Department spokesperson said the agency was reviewing the letter and would consider the request.[16]

On July 1, 2009, EPA notified Sunflower Electric and the state of Kansas that Sunflower must apply for a new air quality permit before the Holcomb expansion can move forward. The air permit process will require new environmental impact analyses and allow for the public comment period called for by Earthjustice and the Sierra Club.[17]

On July 31, 2009, Sierra Club and Earthjustice filed a request in U.S. District Court to force the federal Rural Utilities Service to study the environmental impacts of the Holcomb expansion and look for alternative options to generate electricity. According to the lawsuit, the RUS must sign off on the plant because the agency guaranteed past construction loans.[18]

On January 13, 2010, Sunflower filed a new application with the state to build the 895 MW plant. The company says the new plant would meet state and federal air pollution regulations.[19]

On January 14, 2011 the Sierra Club and Earthjustice filed a petition in the Kansas Court of Appeals, seeking to halt construction of the plant on the grounds that the permit violates the Clean Air Act. The Sierra Club's petition stated that the permit allows excessive amounts of mercury and other hazardous toxins to be released by the plant.[20]

Articles and Resources


  1. "EIA 923 March 2020" EIA 923 2020.
  2. "Solar firm buying land rights near coal plants with eye toward transmission" Energynews.us, July 14, 2020
  3. "The Toll from Coal: An Updated Assessment of Death and Disease from America's Dirtiest Energy Source," Clean Air Task Force, September 2010.
  4. "Technical Support Document for the Powerplant Impact Estimator Software Tool," Prepared for the Clean Air Task Force by Abt Associates, July 2010
  5. "Kansas Governor Rejects Two Coal-Fired Power Plants," Environmental News Service, 3/21/08
  6. "Kansas Governor Rejects Two Coal-Fired Power Plants," Environmental News Service, 3/21/08
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Matt Corley, "Coal Industry Smears Kansas Governor As Ahmadinejad Booster For Denying Air Permit," Think Progress, 11/7/07
  8. Simran Sethi, "What's The Matter With Kansas? The Fight Against Big Coal Hits the State Legislature, with National Repercussions," Huffington Post, 2/5/09
  9. Simran Sethi, "What's The Matter With Kansas? The Fight Against Big Coal Hits the State Legislature, with National Repercussions," Huffington Post, 2/5/09
  10. "Coal-plant and abortion measures head to Sebelius," Wichita Eagle, April 4, 2009.
  11. "As promised, Sebelius vetoes coal plant bill," Kansas City Star, April 13, 2009.
  12. Kansas lawmakers attempt another run at coal plant", Bernie Woodal, Reuters, May 5, 2009.
  13. Parkinson's pro-coal plan stiffs Sebelius", Yael T. Abouhalkah, Kansas City Star, May 4, 2009.
  14. "Kansas lawmakers working on bill to enact coal deal", John Hanna, Associated Press, May 6, 2009.
  15. David Klepper, "Coal-plant decision fires up critics," Kansas City Star, May 11, 2009.
  16. "Environmentalists seek hearing on Kansas coal plant," Associated Press, June 22, 2009.
  17. "Kansas Utility Faces New Permit Hurdles for Proposed Coal Plant," Environmental News Service, July 6, 2009.
  18. "Critics take new step to block Kansas coal plant," Associated Press, August 5, 2009.
  19. "Kan. Utility Files New Application for Coal Plant," Associated Press, January 13, 2009.
  20. "Appeal filed to halt Sunflower plant" Karen Dillon, The Kansas City Star, January 14, 2010.

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