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Effort to push back renewable energy requirements fails in House committee

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Tuesday, March 19, 2013, at 10:57 a.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, March 20, 2013, at 6:45 a.m.

— Attempts to tweak a bill to push back requirements for how much energy in Kansas must come from renewable sources, such as wind turbines, failed during a closely-watched debate Tuesday.

With a standing-room-only crowd packed into a room in the Capitol, the House Energy and Environment Committee narrowly voted to table the bill, likely killing it for the year.

The bill had previously been approved by the committee, only to be kicked back to the committee by the full House. But Republican leaders kept the proposal alive in hopes of a compromise that could gain traction.

Rep. Dennis Hedke, a geophysicist from Wichita who has several energy companies as clients, said the pushback against renewable energy standards is about 2.9 million Kansans who are seeing higher energy rates that he says, and critics dispute, are driven largely by government mandates to use alternative energy sources.

“Right now we have way too much power capacity to deliver through transmission lines,” he said. “Forcing additional activity by the mandates is not going to help that situation.”

Hedke said electrical rates have increased 37 percent since 2008, in part due to mandates from the state and federal government.

Rep. Tom Moxley, R-Council Grove, said the state made a deal that has led to hundreds of millions of dollars being invested in Kansas, and he disputed Hedke’s assertion that rates have increased by 37 percent because of wind energy.

Kansas Corporation Commission data shows it’s far less than that, Moxley said.

“Less than 2 percent is what we’re fighting over,” he said.

In 2009, the state passed a law requiring energy companies to generate or buy electricity from renewable sources, such as wind turbines. Companies must show they get a specific percent of power from such sources during peak demand times.

Kansas is among about 40 states with renewable energy standards. About a dozen other states are working to roll such standards back.

The debate has drawn significant attention, and a Showtime documentary crew filmed the discussion Tuesday for a forthcoming climate change series “Years of Living Dangerously,” produced by Oscar winner James Cameron, along with Jerry Weintraub, Arnold Schwarzenegger and others.

House Bill 2241 would give the companies more time to hit 10 percent and 15 percent standards and it would have eliminated a 20 percent standard. The 15 percent standard is set for 2015, but the bill would have moved it to 2017. The 15 percent standard for 2016 to 2019 would have been moved to 2018.

Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, said the debate over renewable standards has gotten ridiculous.

He said that it’s about whether to mandate alternative energy or not. He pressed for an amendment to get rid of the mandates until a new coal-fired power plant is built in Holcomb, an issue currently held up by the Supreme Court.

It failed.

Rep. Julie Menghini, D-Pittsburg, said it’s not just about deals made related to the Holcomb power plant.

“It’s not about a deal that a bunch of suits made one evening,” she said. “It’s about jobs. It’s about economic vitality. It’s about the future health of Kansas citizens. It’s about the future environmental health of our state. To bring it down to ‘it’s about a deal’ is almost offensive to me.

“This is so much bigger than that. This is about generations of Kansans to come.”

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