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Sunflower Electric pulls plug on planned Kansas coal-fired units

Courtesy Sunflower Electric Power Corp.

The Future of Coal-fired Generation will be one of the content tracks when POWERGEN International 2020 happens December 8-10 in Orlando. The POWERGEN call for abstracts is now open.

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A long planned and delayed coal-fired power project in Kansas is officially dead.

Sunflower Electric Power Corp. announced this week that it was allowing the Holcomb Expansion Project’s air permit to expire on March 27. This would effectively end any potential movement on the 15-year-old plans to add 700-MW supercritical coal-fired units to the project.

“Fifteen years ago, the price of natural gas was high and wind generation was in its infancy,” Stuart Lowry, CEO of Sunflower, said in a statement. “At that time, the expansion of Holcomb Station emerged as the best way to meet our members’ long-term needs for generating reliable, affordable energy.”

The historic rise in U.S. natural gas production and falling cost in renewable projects has rendered coal-fired generation uneconomical in the U.S. Gas-fired power emits less than half the carbon dioxide of coal, while utility-scale wind has grown to nearly eight percent of the U.S. electricity mix.

The Sunflower decision follows an earlier announcement by Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association that it would no longer pursue the Holcomb Expansion Project.

Sunflower pursued an expansion project despite several discouraging turns along the way. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment denied the original Holcomb expansion air permit, and Sunflower subsequently amended its construction plans from three to two 700-MW units.

In 2007, Tr-State and Sunflower signed a purchase option and development agreement. This month, Tri-State also has decided to retire its coal-fired units in New Mexico and Colorado.

Holcomb’s currently operational HL1 unit burns low-sulfur coal from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. It was completed in 1983.

That HL1 generating unit was equipped from the beginning with what was then called the largest sulfur dioxide scrubber in the world. Nine years ago, HL1 was outfitted with Hitachi low NOX (nitrogen oxide) burners at a cost of $22 million, according to the utility.

Sunflower Electric Power Corporation is a regional, wholesale generation and transmission supplier serving Kansas customers. Sunflower’s members include Lane-Scott Electric Cooperative Inc., Dighton; Pioneer Electric Cooperative Inc., Ulysses; Prairie Land Electric Cooperative Inc., Norton; Southern Pioneer Electric Company, Ulysses; The Victory Electric Cooperative Association Inc., Dodge City; Western Cooperative Electric Association Inc., WaKeeney; and Wheatland Electric Cooperative Inc., Scott City, Kansas.

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The Future of Coal-fired Generation will be one of the content tracks when POWERGEN International 2020 happens December 8-10 in Orlando. The POWERGEN call for abstracts is now open.