Tri-State resurrects plans

for Kansas power plant

Coal is apparently still king for local power supplier Tri-State Generation. Though mum is still the word from the company’s headquarters in Westminster, a controversial Kansas power plant was brought back to life last week.

Up until October 2007, Tri-State aggressively pursued a plan to build one of two 700-megawatt coal-fired power plants near Holcomb, Kan., to serve Colorado co-op members. However, at that time, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment rejected Tri-State’s bid for the plant, saying the additional greenhouse gas emissions present a “substantial endangerment” to that state’s public health. Undeterred, Tri-State pursued legal and legislative means to overturn the denial and build the Holcomb plant.

Last week, those efforts bore fruit. After only six days in office, new Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson reached a “compromise” in Holcomb. The decision will allow Tri-State and Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to partner on one 895-megawatt coal plant rather than the two plants originally proposed. The compromise also permits the majority of the power from the Holcomb plant to be exported. In exchange, Tri-State and Sunflower have promised to use “supercritical technology” at the new plant, which will allegedly cut emissions.

Sunflower CEO Earl Watkins commended the compromise and hinted what Tri-State is not saying – most of the power will be funneled to Tri-State’s co-ops in Colorado and Texas at the expense of environmental health in Kansas. “The proposal will allow our out-of-state cooperative partners to participate in the project in a smaller way while preserving the 200 megawatts needed by Kansas cooperative and municipal utilities,” he said. “This effort will move the project forward, bringing much-needed economic activity and jobs to Kansas.”

Longtime critics of the Holcomb proposal have a dimmer view of the compromise. The agreement was brokered behind closed doors and with no public input. Plus, it contains a provision that limits the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s power to regulate greenhouse gases and future power plants. On the up side, Parkinson is asking that Kansas legislators pass a bill enacting renewable energy measures in exchange for the plant.

Nancy Jackson, director of the Kansas-based Climate and Energy Project, accused the compromise of not going far enough. “Had this deal been ours to make, the Climate Energy Project would have preferred a more ambitious mitigation of emissions, with clear enforcement provisions,” she said. “We would also have liked to see energy efficiency provisions that would lower citizens’ bills, keep rates low, and lead to no new pollution.”

Beyond emissions enforcement and mitigation, Tri-State’s foundation of providing the cheapest power available is beginning to show cracks. A recent analysis commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council alleges that continuing to pursue coal-fired power will come at a high cost for Tri-State. Those costs are likely to be borne by ratepayers in Durango and beyond.

Short Dolores season under way

The gates opened on the Lower Dolores River this week, and a relatively short river season is now rolling. However, Durango boaters will have to act quickly if they plan on floating the classic run anytime in 2009.

Though it has been a relatively dry river since McPhee Reservoir was completed in 1985, the Lower Dolores has had some of its old flavor restored recently. There was a significant release from McPhee in 2005, and following last year’s banner winter, the lower Dolores ran from April - June. But the 2009 Dolores River season will be much more limited.

Based on recent warm weather, high flows on the upper Dolores and a rapidly diminishing snowpack, water managers opened the flood gates on McPhee Reservoir on May 13. The flows started at 800 cubic feet per second and were expected to reach anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 cfs by this weekend.

Whether the Dolores River season continues beyond this Sunday depends entirely on the whims of Mother Nature, according to Vern Harrell, of the Bureau of Reclamation. As long as strong in-flows into McPhee continue, the Lower Dolores will flow. However, the months of March and April devastated the

region’s snowpack. Any storms that did arrive brought high winds and dust, and little precipitation. Plus, high temperatures in early May forced flows on the upper Dolores as high as 3,000 cfs and now any snowpack is nearly gone.  

Harrell concluded that future flows, including Memorial Day releases, are unknown but probably unlikely. Release schedules will be updated every Thursday and Monday and are available by clicking “releases” at

Community tries to rescue Standard

The community is trying to come to the rescue of the newspaper in Silverton. The San Juan County Historical Society has stepped in to save theSilverton Standard, which is the oldest continuously operated newspaper on the Western Slope.

The historical society recently agreed to accept theSilverton Standard & the Mineras a donation from Thirteenth Street Media Inc., which also owns theTelluride Daily Planetand theNorwood Post. Declining advertising revenues at the Standard forced Thirteen Street Media to put the paper on the auction block. When no buyers materialized, the media conglomerate opted to donate the publication to the historical society.

“A newspaper is a critical entity in a town, much like a school,” said Bev Rich, president of the San Juan County Historical Society. “If you don’t have a school, you really don’t have a town, and it is the same for a newspaper. It is the center of our community.”

Rich noted that the historical society sees its role as being a temporary trustee for the paper and foresees it becoming a for-profit business once again. Mark Esper has agreed to stay on as editor and publisher and hopes the transition will actually provide a boost for the publication.

“We’re hoping that having local ownership again, and with the historical society’s membership behind us, we can save this historic newspaper,” Esper said.

National slalom races come to Animas

Fifty of the nation’s top paddlers will be taking on high water on the Animas River this week. From May 15-17, the country’s top slalom boaters will be competing for spots on the U.S. National Whitewater Slalom Team. Paddlers ranging from participants in the 2008 Beijing Olympics to local members of the Durango Whitewater Race Team will put their skills to the test in high water in the Durango Whitewater Park. 

In whitewater slalom, athletes have to navigate their kayaks or canoes through gates as they work their way through 300 meters of whitewater. Hitting one of the hanging gates or missing one completely results in time penalties, which are added to the paddler’s time at the end of his or her run. A 2-second penalty is given for a touched gate, and if the gate is missed completely there is a 50-second penalty. 

Local races will begin each morning at 10 a.m. at the Durango Whitewater Park along the Animas River Trail. Paddlers take two runs daily, with second runs starting a noon.

For a complete schedule, visit

– Will Sands