Western Kansas Road Trip Provides New Perspectives
Sunflower Electric’s proposed coal-fired plant expansion and illegal immigration are presently dominating the current legislative session. And while I have done a fair amount of research and have staked out positions on both issues, I’ve always felt that I needed to round out my understanding of these issues by getting a western Kansas perspective.
So earlier this week I went on a road trip to western Kansas. No, not the kind where you head out west on I-70 on your way to Colorado, but the kind of trip where you can really see Kansas lifestyles that significantly differ than those found in the eastern half of the state. The purpose of my trip would be to see what life was like in Finney County, home to some of the state’s largest agribusiness concerns. I decided to set up with tours of Tyson Food’s beef processing plant and Sunflower Electric’s existing 360 megawatt coal-fired plant, both located in Holcomb, Kansas. I wanted to hear from the management of these companies regarding their thoughts on these issues and share them with you.
Operations at the Tyson processing plant are extremely impressive. The plant, on a square foot basis, is the largest beef processing plant in the world. The plant can process up to 400 head of cattle per hour and up to 1.7 million head annually. The plant manager indicated that profitability of the plant has been depressed in part due to escalating corn prices and Japan’s continued ban on most U.S. beef products. The plant has several veteran employees with many years of line experience but is challenged with finding new people to fill its job openings; the plant experiences an annual turnover rate of around 40 percent as significant numbers of new hires figure out they’re just not cut out to do some of the more physically demanding jobs. As part of its hiring practices, the plant uses the Department of Homeland Security’s E-Verify system and has found the system helpful in validating an employee’s documents used to substantiate employment eligibility.
The Sunflower Electric Holcomb Station plant is also remarkable in its own right. Being one of the newer coal-fired plants in the state (it first came on line in 1982), it produces some of the lowest CO2 emissions per megawatt hour for coal-fired plants in Kansas. In providing an overview of the company, a Sunflower executive explained that coal was only one component of Sunflower’s generation resource mix; given its current utilization of wind resources, Sunflower presently has the largest renewable portfolio of all Kansas-based utilities. Sunflower executives believe that the proposed twin 700 megawatt coal-fired plant expansion will significantly lower its average fuel and operating expenses as well as offset expenses that otherwise would have been charged to member cooperatives.
I was extremely impressed with both the hospitality and information I received from the folks at Tyson and Sunflower Electric. And while we may differ on our positions regarding the issues, I know that I came away from our exchanges with a better understanding of the struggles western Kansas businesses and communities are facing.
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Thank you for letting me serve as your State Representative. I always appreciate knowing where you stand on the issues our state is currently facing. I can be reached at (785) 766-6862 (daytime) or (785) 865-2786 (evenings). My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, if you would like to be added to my e-mail newsletter mailing list, please send me your e-mail address.