Nearly every viewer of Kansas television likely has seen these ads recently. They feature a large and most unflattering photo of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The graphics and voice-over tell us that Kansas utility ratepayers have seen their electricity bills rise since Sebelius, while governor of Kansas, proposed the renewable portfolio standard requiring that by 2020 Kansas utilities generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, essentially wind.
“It’s no coincidence,” says the background voice, “that some Kansans have experienced 15 electricity rate hikes since the RPS passed.... It’s now up to Gov. Brownback and the Kansas Legislature to repeal the RPS mandate.”
However, Americans for Properity, the group claiming ownership of the ad, has a couple of significant problems with the story it is trying to sell to Kansans. First and foremost, it isn’t true.
Documents on file with the Kansas Corporation Commission, the entity responsible for regulating utilities, show that renewable electricity generation has added only 1.6 percent to electricity rates. By far the largest contributor has been environmentally required upgrades to coal plants. So when AFP suggests Kansas’ portfolio standard is responsible for recent electricity rate increases, it’s provably false.
The second problem AFP has in selling its story is a recent, well-designed survey of Kansans of all political stripes. It shows that renewables, especially wind generation, enjoy broad support. In the survey by North Star Opinion Research, a group often used by conservative candidates, 91 percent of Kansans said they believe future Kansas energy needs can best be met by greater use of renewables. Seventy-two percent of Republicans, 75 percent of independents and 82 percent of Democrats said they support the bill passed in 2009 that requires Kansas utilities to use renewables to generate at least 20 percent of their electricity by 2020.
So what is Americans for Prosperity and whom does it represent? Who wants us to repeal the renewable portfolio standard and generate more of our electricity with coal and so-called abundant natural gas (the wholesale price of which has risen more than 100 percent in the past two years)? Organized as a 501(c)(4), AFP doesn’t disclose the sources of its funding. However, during a recent visit to the state Capitol, I bumped into two old friends, longtime lobbyists for Koch Industries. They introduced the person with them, a lobbyist for Americans for Prosperity. Just coincidence? Probably not, as David Koch was chairman of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.