Sunflower Electric Power Corporation

From Global Energy Monitor

Sunflower Electric Power Corporation describes itself as "a regional wholesale power supplier that operates a 1,257 MW system of wind, gas, and coal-based generating plants and a 2,300-mile transmission system" for its six member cooperatives.[1]


Sunflower owns and operates the 349 megawatt coal-fired (MW) Holcomb Power Station and in 2006 proposed the Holcomb Expansion comprising an additional three 700 megawatt coal-fired units. (One of the proposed additional units has subsequently been dropped). The proposed expansion has been the subject of ongoing political controversy -- including the company's role in funding advertisements run by a front group, Kansans for Affordable Energy. The proposed expansion has also been the subject of a number of legal battles. (See Holcomb Expansion for details).

Coal Plants

Plant State Year(s) Built Capacity Status
Holcomb Station KS 1983 349 MW Operating

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.[2] 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."[3]


In January 2011, Sunflower president and chief executive officer Earl Watkins Jr. said he will step down in January 2012, after holding the position more than seven years. Watkins and then-Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson struck a deal in May 2009 to allow the construction of one new coal-fired plant, as Sunflower had wanted to build two, in exchange for legislative support for initiatives to promote wind and other renewable forms of energy. U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp said the Holcomb Expansion will be Watkins' legacy. Senate President Steve Morris, a Hugoton Republican, said of Watkins and the plant expansion: "helped us overcome a number of obstacles to get there."[4]

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.[5]

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.”[5]

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.”[5]

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."[5]

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.[6]

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."[7]

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.[8]

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."[9]

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.[10][11][12]

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.[13]

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.[14]

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.[15]

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.[16]

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.[17]

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.[18]

State and Sunflower in close contact during permitting

In June 2011, it was reported that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and Sunflower Electric Power were in close contact while the state was writing a permit for Sunflower's Holcomb Expansion. The report cited emails showing the state used Sunflower's answers to questions from the public during the permit process.

The project was approved in mid-December of 2011, just a couple of weeks before a new law was to take effect. The plant would have fallen under new federal regulations on greenhouse gasses that took effect January 2, 2011.[19]

Coal lobbying

Sunflower is a member of the American Coal Ash Association (ACAA), an umbrella lobbying group for all coal ash interests that includes major coal burners Duke Energy, Southern Company and American Electric Power as well as dozens of other companies. The group argues that the so-called "beneficial-use industry" would be eliminated if a "hazardous" designation was given for coal ash waste.[20]

ACAA set up a front group called Citizens for Recycling First, which argues that using toxic coal ash as fill in other products is safe, despite evidence to the contrary.[20]

Member Co-operatives

Its members are:

  • Lane-Scott Electric Cooperative, Dighton;
  • Pioneer Electric Cooperative, Ulysses;
  • Prairie Land Electric Cooperative, Norton;
  • Victory Electric Cooperative Association, Dodge City;
  • Western Cooperative Electric Association, WaKeeney; and
  • Wheatland Electric Cooperative, Scott City, Kansas.


Contact Details

300 West 13th Street
Hays, KS 67601

PO Box 1020
Hays, KS 67601
Phone: (785)628-2845

Articles and Resources


  1. "Sunflower Electric Launches New Website", Media Release, January 26, 2009.
  2. "Kansas Governor Rejects Two Coal-Fired Power Plants," Environmental News Service, 3/21/08
  3. "Kansas Governor Rejects Two Coal-Fired Power Plants," Environmental News Service, 3/21/08
  4. John Hanna, "CEO at Kan. utility pursuing coal plant to retire" Bloomberg, Feb. 1, 2011.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Matt Corley, "Coal Industry Smears Kansas Governor As Ahmadinejad Booster For Denying Air Permit," Think Progress, 11/7/07
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. "Coal-plant and abortion measures head to Sebelius," Wichita Eagle, April 4, 2009.
  9. "As promised, Sebelius vetoes coal plant bill," Kansas City Star, April 13, 2009.
  10. Kansas lawmakers attempt another run at coal plant", Bernie Woodal, Reuters, May 5, 2009.
  11. Parkinson's pro-coal plan stiffs Sebelius", Yael T. Abouhalkah, Kansas City Star, May 4, 2009.
  12. "Kansas lawmakers working on bill to enact coal deal", John Hanna, Associated Press, May 6, 2009.
  13. David Klepper, "Coal-plant decision fires up critics," Kansas City Star, May 11, 2009.
  14. "Environmentalists seek hearing on Kansas coal plant," Associated Press, June 22, 2009.
  15. "Kansas Utility Faces New Permit Hurdles for Proposed Coal Plant," Environmental News Service, July 6, 2009.
  16. "Critics take new step to block Kansas coal plant," Associated Press, August 5, 2009.
  17. "Kan. Utility Files New Application for Coal Plant," Associated Press, January 13, 2009.
  18. "Appeal filed to halt Sunflower plant" Karen Dillon, The Kansas City Star, January 14, 2010.
  19. Todd Pittenger, "State, Coal Plant In Close Contact During Permitting Process" Metro Source News, June 20, 2011.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Coal-Fired Utilities to American Public: Kiss my Ash & PolluterWatch, October 27, 2010.

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