When Gov. Mark Parkinson capitulated to Sunflower Electric Power Corporation and gave his stamp of approval to a monstrous coal-fired power plant in Western Kansas, he sucker-punched his predecessor Kathleen Sebelius, who had mustered the political courage to oppose the pollution-spewing facilities for a solid two years.
The new governor also gave the finger to thousands of Kansans who put exceptional pressure on their elected officials to hold the line against the dirty idea.
Still, Parkinson insists his behind-closed-doors' agreement is a win for the environment. Sure, we get some more coal, the governor reasons, but we also get lots of nice perks, like more wind power development and a funky algae experiment, too.
Too bad it's mostly greenwash.
Let us count the ways.
Today: Imaginary carbon offsets.
By now, every kindergarten student knows that coal-fired power plants spew huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the air. Never fear, though, because Mark Parkinson thought of that before he signed his agreement allowing Sunflower to construct a giant climate-change accelerator.
In the press release, the governor said the treaty included an "unprecedented level of carbon mitigation" to reduce the environmental impact. In effect, Parkinson hopes to "offset" the coal pollution by balancing it out with renewable energy.
Too bad all the wind turbines in the world won't suck a single pound of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Even worse, Parkinson's carbon offsets are, at best, weak and, at worse, completely imaginary.
First, don't believe the lofty claims that the carbon
reduction measures entirely cleanse the project of any
impact on global warming. In a news conference announcing the deal last
week, Parkinson said, "It is entirely possible that the carbon impact
of this plant is zero or perhaps even less than zero."
There's a fancy trick to that assertion, though. Remember, Sunflower
wanted to build two plants in Holcomb. Parkinson only sold out for one.
To get to zero carbon impact, Parkinson is counting as a reduction the plant that doesn't even exist.
That's not the only imaginary carbon. The agreement calls for the decommission of two oil-fired power stations owned by Sunflower in Garden City. The governor's office suggested scrapping those old clunkers would save 60,000 tons of carbon per year. Actually, governor, that number is a big fat zero. Even Sunflower officials admit the facilities have been inoperable for years.
The agreement also asks Sunflower to burn fuel that includes 10 percent biomass -- displacing some of the coal. That, the governor's office assessment suggests, will spare 950,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year.
But wait, there's an escape hatch! The agreement says Sunflower doesn't have to burn a single shred of biomass if it is "technically or economically unviable." Meaning: If biomass costs more than coal Sunflower doesn't have to do it. Craig Volland, with the Kansas Sierra Club, ran the numbers and found that
the price of agricultural waste will almost certainly far exceed the costs of the black stuff. So Sunflower will probably get a pass on that provision.
There's one more curious twist. The Excel document calculating and outlining the carbon savings wasn't produced by the governor's office. It wasn't drafted by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, either. Click on the document's "properties" section and you'll see the author: Wayne Penrod, an engineer for Sunflower Electric Power Corporation.
Beth Martino, spokeswoman for Governor Parkinson, won't confirm the author. "The offsets were calculated as part of the confidential legal settlement negotiations," she wrote in an e-mail.