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Lawmakers to vote on altered renewable energy bill

  • Eagle Topeka Bureau
  • Published Thursday, May 1, 2014, at 9:14 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, July 24, 2014, at 6:54 a.m.

— Lawmakers have revived legislation meant to end the state’s renewable energy standards, but have altered it so that it would happen gradually.

The House will vote on the bill Friday.

Earlier in the session the House voted down a bill that would have repealed the renewable portfolio standard, better known as the RPS, which requires that utility companies get 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020.

The revised legislation keeps the current 10 percent requirement and allows the 15 percent requirement to run from 2016 to 2021. But after that, the RPS would sunset, explained Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, who made the proposal at a committee meeting.

Rep. Dennis Hedke, R-Wichita, chair of the House Energy and Environment Committee, accepted Knox’s offer. A debate and vote will happen in the House on Friday. If the bill passes it will go to the Senate, which previously passed a full repeal.

Knox and other repeal supporters say the renewable energy standards threaten to increase electric rates now that a federal subsidy for wind power has expired.

Clean energy proponents, on the other hand, say the RPS has helped build a thriving wind industry in the state and that a repeal could hinder its growth.

Knox presented the sunset as a compromise alternative to full repeal. But supporters of the RPS did not see it that way.

“It’s a play on words,” said Moti Rieber, a clean-energy activist who attended the meeting.

Rieber leads Kansas Interfaith Power and Light, an organization that promotes environmental stewardship. He said the RPS has helped bring revenue to the state and questioned the rationale for reviving the efforts to end it.

“It’s very frustrating to think that this thing never dies even though it’s bad policy, and it’s been voted down over and over again,” he said.

Americans For Prosperity and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce have both aggressively pushed for a repeal. Mike O’Neal, chamber president and former House speaker, praised the sunset compromise.

“Some individuals felt philosophically that this was the right thing to do, but weren’t ready to just drop the hammer right now and say repeal,” O’Neal said while walking out of the meeting. He said the bill would allow the status quo to remain intact for several years.

“As compromises go that’s a pretty sweet compromise,” he said.

Proponents of repeal have warned about potential electric rate increases. But Zack Pistoria, spokesman for the Kansas Sierra Club, says the argument is based on faulty data. He noted that the Kansas Corporation Commission has concluded that the RPS was responsible for less than 2 percent of rate increases.

“There’s some misinformation going on here about renewable energy causing the rate increase and that’s absolutely wrong,” he said. “We’ve seen KCC data. That’s not the case.

“When you look what is causing the rate increase, it’s dirty energy and we’re having to clean it,” Pistoria said, referring to the cost of updating old coal fire plants to meet federal regulations.

Knox, however, said that without a federal subsidy for wind energy production, the cost for utility companies will increase and be passed onto ratepayers. He said that because most utility companies have already reached the 15 percent benchmark the RPS is currently largely symbolic.

“When we are asked to move to 20 percent and we’re asked to pay for it ourselves, meaning ratepayers will pay for that move … that’s when it ceases to be symbolic and becomes very real for our ratepayers,” he said.

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.

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