Closer Look: What was the Kansas coal plant compromise?

After only six days in office, Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson did last week what state legislators couldn’t do in two years: resolve the rancorous row over Western Kansas coal plants.

But the Democrat also succeeded in angering some in his own party and environmental groups that had viewed Parkinson as their champion. After all, they’d repeatedly fought off the coal plant project, then saw Parkinson give in for environmental concessions they view as inconsequential. The Parkinson compromise allows Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to build one 895-megawatt coal plant near Holcomb, Kan. It’s not the two 700-megawatt plants that Sunflower wanted, but after years of fighting Parkinson’s predecessor, utility executives jumped at the offer.

In exchange, Sunflower agreed to invest in more wind power and energy efficiency, and the state Legislature agreed to pass modest measures to encourage renewable energy. The deal was brokered in secret and announced only after it was signed. Parkinson said confidentiality was necessary because it involved a settlement of the lawsuit Sunflower filed when the state denied its permits. But while Parkinson touted the concessions made by Sunflower, many were planned by the utility before the deal was struck. Others appear to have limited value to the state.

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