Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association is struggling to obtain approval for its proposed project to build 1400 MWe of new coal fired power in Kansas. (The actions that led to denial of the needed emission permit for that project, a partnership with Sunflower Electric Power Corp., was the subject of Smoking Gun Part 8 – (Gas industry firing at coal with Sierra Club assist))
Tri-State’s board of directors has recently voted to direct the company’s staff to study the costs and benefits associated with building a new nuclear power plant on a site where the company owns land and water rights sufficient to support either a coal or nuclear plant near the town of Holly. Holly is located in the southeast part of the state, near the Kansas border.
On April 5, 2008, the Denver Post published an article about the project written by Andy Vuong titled Talk runs hot ‘n’ coal: Nuke plant eyed that does a good job of highlighting some of the cognitive dissonance that the local environmental community is facing. They know that the region needs reliable power, that Tri-State currently produces 70% of its electricity by burning coal, and that they are concerned about the impact of CO2 emissions on the climate. The best informed of the environmental community also know that Tri-State is already so short of generating capacity that it is importing about 12% of its power from other generating companies that are also depending on coal.
They are also facing the hard reality that few people – other than the natural gas suppliers – would be happy about a shift of the company’s generating asset base to a mix of unreliable and expensive sources like wind and solar power with natural gas to fill in the periods of low availability.
Fortunately for the electrical customers in that are served by the cooperative associations supplied by Tri-State, the management at Tri-State is bluntly honest about the available generating choices:
Tri-State’s incoming general manager Ken Anderson, currently a senior vice president, will be on the hot seat once he takes over in July. He said he is committed to coal because of its relatively low cost, but is open to other sources of power.
“We own coal, we have faith in coal, we know about its reliability,” he said. “It’s still the proper resource decision for the nature of resources that we need.”
The company said it has to continue to rely on coal because its rural customers require a constant load and renewables aren’t suitable for base-load generation and natural gas prices are too volatile.
It will be interesting to see how the company’s study of the costs and benefits of nuclear power versus coal turns out. That study will be particularly interesting since it will probably include the added risk factors of a potential tax on carbon dioxide plus significant opposition to new coal plant construction.
Of course, I do not recommend holding your breath while waiting for the company to release the results of the study. It will be valuable competitive information whose final computations will only be obvious when the company starts ordering parts and suppliers for its new generation plants – whatever form they take.