Many people across the state oppose the Holcomb expansion in Southwest Kansas, but I am here to tell you why it's our chance to solve our country's energy problems. We all have heard the 'economic benefits vs. carbon emissions' argument, but I am not here to tell you about that. Their plans are much more than just for economic benefit, just keep reading.
I just finished my freshman year at the University of Kansas, where the debate for these coal plants was raging. In fact, a part of me felt Sebelius did the right thing in denying the permits, despite my hailing from Southwest Kansas. I have had the opportunity to work as an intern this summer for Sunflower Electric. It was not until I learned the details of the Holcomb expansion that I realized Sebelius has made a huge mistake. What all of Sebelius’ spokespersons and supporters fail to mention is that, in leading the way to a cleaner energy policy, our governor has halted the progress of one of the most promising technologies our country has developed. In addition to the two plants, Sunflower planned to build the first ever fully integrated bioenergy center on site.
If Kansas truly wanted to find an answer to our state’s ‘dirty coal plants’, it was right in front of us. The idea has existed for decades, but was not economically feasible until fairly recently. The company set to install the system was Greenfuel Technologies. The technology, while brilliant, is fairly simple. It works as follows: Capture the carbon emissions from the plant and pump them into water. It can be any type of water, even waste water. Algae grows in the water, and as the world’s fastest growing plant, it can be harvested daily. Oil from the algae can then be used to produce both ethanol and biodiesel from the on-site plants, and at a proven rate of fifteen to twenty times that of corn. Solids from the algae, which are high in starch and protein, can then be used as animal feed for the on-site dairy. The technology has the potential to cut carbon emissions by up to 40 percent as well as SO2 emissions by a whopping 85%.
This entire system, the first of its kind to create no waste, was ready to be installed. The only commercial scale test so far had been completed on an Arizona gas-fired power plant in late 2006. The only downside: the algae grew so fast they could not harvest it all in time. In the past year, Greenfuel Technologies has redeveloped their bioreactor to handle the increased algae growth rate. Within the last two months the company has hired a new CEO and eliminated their debt with a new $13.9 million venture capitalist investment. All that remains is to test their technology on a commercial scale coal plant. Of course, a company runs a considerable risk in allowing such a technology to be installed. Sunflower Electric was ready to take that risk, but our governor was not. The technology was labeled ‘unproven’, and KDHE refused to consider it in making their decision. They looked purely at the CO2 emission estimates for the new plants, and did not consider what the new technology would eliminate. In denying the plants their permits, our governor was applauded by environmentalists around the state. If she would have allowed the plan to progress, in a few years from now, an entire nation may have been applauding her.
Georgia has recently made a similar ruling on a coal plant’s permit, and Sebelius’ decision will slowly be overshadowed by bigger ones. What will not be forgotten is the opportunity Governor Sebelius had in front of her, the chance to take the first major step towards a cleaner and better future. No breakthrough technology can be proven successful without taking a chance. Likewise, no person can be an effective leader without having the courage to take that chance.
This technology's upside is tremendous. In fact, it is estimated that an algae farm the size of Maryland would produce enough algae to completely displace our country's oil needs. Completely, zero drilling needed. Also, one complaint is that the new plants would require too much water. I hate to break it to you, but in Finney county (where Sunflower is located) 97% of all water use goes to agriculture. That leaves 3% for the current 350 megawatt power plant, the meat packing plant IBP (one of the largest in the world), the newly installed ethanol plant, and all commercial and residencial use. So the argument that Sunflower would use too much water just isn't logical. In fact, any argument agaisnt this plant and bioenergy center has no validity. It's just too good of a plan. Please read the following websites if you want more information, and let me know your opinions. I would be happy to discuss it further. As citizens of Kansas, we cannot let this opportunity slip away.
First successful installation of Greenfuel's system on a gas fired power plant in Arizona:
Info on Sunflower's plans: