Coal power costs are becoming a pocketbook issue

Kansas has chips in the energy bill being debated in Congress. If the law passed imposes costs on carbon emissions, the cost of generating power at the Jeffrey Energy Center near St. Marys, Westar North’s main plant, will rise. Kansans will pay more for power every month as a consequence.
At present, the rate increase would fall primarily on users in the north part of the state. The Wolf Creek nuclear plant at Burlington produces power for its retail customers, while most of Iola’s electricity comes from coal plants through the Kansas Power Pool. The Jeffrey plant emits about 16 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. Wolf Creek emits none.
Northern users are asking the Kansas Corporation Commission to equalize the rates between the two halves of the state to avoid disproportionate power rates across the state.
Regardless of whether the KCC will acceed to this request, what Kansas should focus on is the cost of climate control and ways to control that cost.
Three ways to control the amount of climate-changing carbon dioxide shot into the atmosphere are under consideration. Cap-and-trade legislation is under debate now. The House passed it; the Senate will consider it. Cap-and-trade requires power plants such as the Jeffrey Center to stop emitting or buy pollution credits from other plants. Under that law, Jeffrey will incur additional costs that would be passed on to consumers.
A simple carbon tax would be another way to go. Every emitter of carbon dioxide would pay an annual tonnage tax, providing a strong incentive to harness emissions.
The third and best solution is to reduce emissions to zero with non-polluting generation. In Kansas, that would mean more nuclear power, more wind turbines and more solar power.

THE PROSPECT of seeing the climate-control cost of coal-fired plants show up monthly on utility bills may change the power debate in Kansas.
For reasons unexplained, when building two massive coal-fired plants at Holcomb was under debate, lawmakers gave very little consideration to the impact that federal controls on carbon emission would have on the cost of power produced by Sunflower Electric there.
Not only was it likely then that the uncertain additional costs of taxing carbon emissions, directly or indirectly, would drive up the cost of financing the plants, it is almost certain today. Interest rates on the massive amount that must be borrowed for very long terms must be high enough to cover those unknown and unknowable costs.
What Kansas should do is find creative ways to build new nuclear plants, see that the power transmission network needed is built to open up the state to wind farms wherever they are feasible and encourage through tax incentives construction of solar and wind installations on a scale large enough to significantly reduce the need for coal-fired generation. Not just to slow climate change, but also to save every Kansas business and family from escalating power costs.
The handwriting is on the wall in grade school-language. Read it, Kansas lawmakers, and act.

Emerson Lynn, jr.