ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Charles Benjamin is hoping a few light bulbs went on during his educational presentation Thursday evening in Marion on “Global Warming: The Kansas Connection.”
And those light bulbs better be of the compact fluorescent variety.
Benjamin, lead attorney and lobbyist with the Kansas Sierra Club, told the 40 or so people who gathered in the Marion Senior Center that switching from standard fluorescent to compact fluorescent light bulbs is the simplest but most effective action households can take to fight global warming and secure the state’s energy future.
“One of thing all of us can do is to take personal responsibility and change all of our light bulbs,” said Benjamin, a former Harvey County commissioner now living in Lawrence.
Benjamin’s presentation was sponsored by the Kansas Rural Center, a non-profit organization committed to sustainable rural culture.
Fueling his presentation was a sense of urgency about plans by energy companies to develop five new coal-fired electric generating plants in the state in the very near future.
“This is just part of the bigger picture across the United States of 150 coal plants that are being pushed by electric utilities and the coal industry throughout the country,” Benjamin.
Because coal is a carbon-based fuel, the new plants will be emitting into the atmosphere significantly more carbon dioxide (CO2), a chief contributor to global warming, Benjamin said.
Sunflower Rural Electric Corp. is proposing a cluster of three coal-fired plants near Holcomb that will produce 2,100 megawatts (MW) of electricity. The plants will primarily serve customers living in the urban sprawl along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.
“This will be the largest new source of greenhouse gasses in the United States,” Benjamin said of the project. Combined with an existing plant that produces 360 MW, Sunflower will have “the largest coal-burning complex west of the Mississippi River.
“We estimate 12 million tons of CO2 per year for the next 50 to 75 years.”
Benjamin said Westar Energy, the largest utility in Kansas, is planning to build an 850 MW coal plant at a site yet to be determined, and the Board of Public in Kansas City, Kan., is planning a 300 MW coal plant on the Missouri River.
A sixth plant, proposed by Kansas City Power & Light, is projected for across the boarder near Weston, Mo., and will produce 900 MW.
In addition to releasing CO2, coal-fired plants put particulates into the air that can cause asthma and cancer, mercury that contaminates fish in streams and rivers, and ozone that aggravates asthma.
“There’s been an explosion of asthma in the United States over the last 20 years,” Benjamin said.
Before utilities are allowed to invest billions of dollars to build new coal-fired plants that will last 50 to 75 years, Benjamin said the emphasis should be on energy efficiency-which could eliminate the need for building additional plants.
“The No. 1 solution (to increasing energy demand) is to use the energy we’ve got more efficiently,” Benjamin said. “Unfortunately, Kansas ranks last among states in energy-efficiency program offered by utilities to their customers.
“Part of the reason,” he said, “is we have relatively cheap electric rates because we have old, amortized coal plants and other gas plants. The last wave of building was in the 1980s, so they’re basically paid for.
“Before we do any new generation of anything-whether it’s coal, wind, nuclear or whatever-we ought to have a massive program of energy efficiency, then see where we’re at,” he said.
Sunflower Electric has already applied for the state permits permits required to move ahead with its project near Holcomb.
Benjamin urged his listeners to write comments to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment by its Oct. 30 deadline, and to write letters to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
“There’s a commitment being made here that affects all of us for the next 50 to 75 years and beyond, and we’re rushing into this,” Benjamin said.
“Maybe you don’t think wind (energy) is a good idea, but I think all of would agree that we ought to be using energy more efficiently. But there will be no incentive to do so if these coal plants come on line.”