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Earl Watkins, Sunflower Chief Executive, speaks at AFP event

Earl Watkins, President and CEO of Sunflower Electric Power Corporation recently spoke to a group of citizen activists as part of AFP – Kansas Day at the Capitol. Here’s a few notes from his talk.

Did you know that Sunflower Electric is a not-for-profit organization?

The demand for electricity changes constantly, moment-by-moment, throughout the day. Since electricity can’t be stored, matching generation to consumption of electricity is a challenge. Adding wind power makes this an even more challenging job, as wind power is very erratic.

Watkins told a story of how a group of Kansas University students contacted him as part of their investigation of the “slothful and wasteful” practices of excess electricity consumption. Watkins told how when he attended KU, he had a radio and an electric typewriter in his dorm room, not to mention the forbidden hotplate. Today, however, these students have many electrical devices in their dorm rooms — refrigerators, microwave ovens, televisions, and computers, for example. Electrical power is a huge factor in the increased quality of life, especially for college students.

The average age of Sunflower’s natural gas-powered plants is almost 40 years.

While Kansas is often portrayed as having rich wind resources, the wind doesn’t always blow when power is needed. “The fact of the matter is, of the four seasons for harvesting wind, the summer in the day is the worst,” Watkins said. The highest demand for electrical power, of course, is on hot summer afternoons.

It is the cost of the various forms of power generation that Sunflower uses that drives the decision as how to generate power and invest in capacity. These costs per kilowatt-hour are 1.5 cents for coal, 5 cents for wind, and 9 cents for natural gas.

If the permit for the new coal plant is denied, Sunflower will be forced to build new wind and natural gas capacity. It’s estimated that the extra cost to consumers — remember these forms of generation are more expensive to build and operate than coal — is about $600 per household per year.

Afterwards I asked Watkins a few questions. One concerned Cessna Aircraft Company chairman, president and chief executive officer Jack Pelton and his role as leader of the Kansas Energy and Environmental Policy Advisory Group (KEEP). How, I asked, does Pelton expect to build airplanes in Wichita when the wind isn’t blowing? The answer is that it’s easy for him to trade Western Kansas for a relationship with the Sebelius administration. This relationship has paid off handsomely for Pelton and Cessna, with $33 million in state money heading his way, and potential for more. My post Jack Pelton, Leader of Kansas Energy and Environmental Policy Advisory Group explains.

Also, does the fact of Governor Sebelius’ impending departure from Kansas have any potential impact on the Kansas House of Representatives and its voting? He indicated that perhaps it would.

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One Comment

  1. LonnythePlumber March 20, 2009

    I learned three things from Bob in this article that I did not know. I’m moving this site up to my number three position for information.

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