Hours after Gov. Sam Brownback expressed support for gradually phasing out the state’s renewable energy standards, his office issued a statement saying otherwise.
Brownback called for opponents of renewable energy standards to work out a compromise with wind energy supporters Wednesday morning at an informal meeting with reporters.
“This is a fabulous wind state and we’ve doubled wind production during the term I’ve been in office as governor. We’ve doubled it. And we’ve got more room to grow,” he said.
The governor said he thought the renewable portfolio standard, which requires that utility companies get 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, had been necessary to support that growth. But he also said he would support phasing out what’s known as RPS over time.
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“I do. And what I’ve said is phase it out over four years,” Brownback said. He compared it to phasing out tax credits for ethanol at the federal level. “RPS, you’re in a similar position, I think, you need a four-year phase-out so you get some consistency and knowledge.”
Brownback made the comments around 10 a.m. Just before 5:30 p.m., his spokeswoman, Eileen Hawley, issued a statement saying that Brownback’s remarks were aimed at phasing out federal tax credits for wind energy production.
“The Governor made a comment intending to say he supports phasing out production tax credits (not RPS) and emphasized his continuing support for all forms of energy production in Kansas,” Hawley said. “Remember that in each case, he said ‘I’m a Kansan’ first and that he is focused on doing what is right for Kansans and Kansas businesses.”
The federal production tax credit expired in 2013, but projects under construction before January 2014 remained eligible.
The renewable standards issue proved divisive in the last legislative session, when a repeal of it failed to pass in the House after passing in the Senate.
The repeal was strongly backed by Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, two groups associated with Koch Industries. It was opposed by the state’s increasingly robust wind energy industry.
A second bill that would have gradually phased out the RPS between 2016 and 2019 failed to pass the House on the final day of the legislative session.
Brownback said the sides need to work together on the issue.
“Get something agreed to between the wind people and the people who are opposed to this. I told them all along this last legislative session, ‘OK, sit down and work it out,’ ” Brownback said.
“You know how something will pass or not pass in this place. You’ve got to get the big players to sit down and talk to each other,” he said. “Because if you don’t, what ends up happening is what happened. You get it through one body and you get snagged.”
Wednesday, the two sets of remarks from the governor and his office elicited surprise from both sides of the debate.
Kansas Chamber President Mike O’Neal said in an email that during the session, “the compromise he urged us to pursue was definitely RPS. We and the Legislature have no role in the Federal PTC. That's Congress of course.”
O’Neal said that he was not suggesting that Brownback proposed a specific compromise, “just he wanted us to reach a compromise and what we were willing to do was right in line with the phase out.”
However, supporting a phase-out could alienate the wind energy industry, which has been supportive of Brownback in the past.
Kimberly Svaty, spokeswoman for the Wind Coalition, an association that represents the industry, called phasing out the RPS a false compromise and said that wind energy supporters would oppose the idea.
“The governor has been a champion for the wind industry in Kansas,” Svaty said after the governor clarified his remarks. “And we have supported him just like we have supported other politicians across party lines who are pro-jobs, pro-investment and pro-Kansas.”
Rep. Dennis Hedke, R-Wichita, asked if he thought the two sides could reach a compromise in the next session, said anything is possible. Hedke, chair of the House Energy and Environment Committee, has been one of the biggest supporters of repeal.
“I think it’s too early to actually project where things might project next session, whether it’ll be a repeal-type of approach, compromise approach or some third option out there,” Hedke said in a phone call. He also said it may depend on how House elections go in August and November.
The chamber’s political action committee has targeted some Republican incumbents who voted against repealing the mandate.
“What if I told you this same candidate voted to keep a renewable energy mandate proposed by Kathleen Sebelius that drove up costs for Kansas families?” a radio ad, paid for by the chamber’s PAC, asks voters about Rep. Kent Thompson, R-LaHarpe.
The ad mentions Sebelius twice in connection to the renewable energy standards. “On Aug. 5, it’s time to put an end to Kent Thompson’s charades. We can’t afford any more ‘what ifs.’ ”
The chamber and AFP have repeatedly said that the renewable energy standards will increase electric rates. But the majority of rate increases have been caused by updates to coal power plants to meet EPA standards, according to the Kansas Corporation Commission.
Environmentalists warn that the proposed construction of a new coal power plant in Holcomb could make it more difficult for the state to meet EPA standards.
Brownback has supported the plan for a plant in Holcomb, but he has also been vocal in his support for clean energy.
“I’m for Holcomb. I’m just for all of it. I’m for all energy sources. We’ve got solar panels in our house that really work well,” Brownback said.
Former U.S. Rep. Jan Meyers cited Brownback’s support for wind energy as one of the primary reasons for her decision to endorse the governor earlier this week.
“Wind energy development has brought rural Kansas billions of dollars of new investment and has created thousands of high-paying, quality jobs,” Meyers wrote in an open letter.
Brownback said he has been supporting wind energy since his time in the U.S. Senate.
“I supported wind from the outset. I was the only Republican on the Energy Committee to support wind energy and I’d get a lot of people pushing me, and I’d say, look, I’m a Kansan first and this is really good for Kansas,” Brownback said.