A bill repealing renewable energy standards for utility companies won approval in the Kansas Senate on Tuesday.
The vote was 25-15. The bill now goes to the House.
Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, who carried the bill, contended that repeal was necessary because of the expiration of a federal tax credit for wind production. He said Kansans would be stuck making up for the loss of that tax break in their electric bills.
He also said increased use of wind power has caused an increase in electric rates, citing statistics from the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, and argued that this costs Kansas businesses thousands of dollars each year.
Democrats disputed this and cited other studies that indicate renewable energy helps stabilize the energy market.
Opponents of the bill also said repeal of the standards will hurt the growth of an increasingly important industry.
The repeal sends a negative message to potential investors about the friendliness of the state toward wind energy, said Karin Brownlee, a former senator and secretary of labor who now represents Kansans for Wind Energy.
“The facts are that wind has provided billions of dollars of capital investment in our state, and it’s provided thousands of jobs. So if you look at those facts, that’s a reason to keep the RPS,” Brownlee said.
Supporters of the repeal say the standards are not needed. Mike O’Neal, the president of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, noted Tuesday that utility companies already receive 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources, their benchmark for 2015.
“I don’t necessarily buy this message argument. But if we want to talk about messaging, we would much rather have the message be that we are a free-market state that is wind friendly than we are a mandate state,” O’Neal said.
“Are they seriously claiming that if the RPS goes away the appetite for wind, the appetite for renewable goes away? It doesn’t,” O’Neal added.
Sen. Jeff Melcher, R-Leawood, said the RPS as a mandate undermines the free market and that the market on its own should guide the state’s energy policy. “I always trust the free market.”
But Sen. Dan Kerschen, R-Garden Plain, pointed to flaws in this logic.
“If you’re an energy producer, there’s a mandate to who you sell your energy to, and the buyer is mandated who they can buy it from,” Kerschen said.
Kerschen asked Knox whether he thought the standards had contributed to the growth of wind power in the state. Knox agreed it had, and Kerschen said the Legislature should consider that before dropping the mandate.
Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, noted that the strong renewable mandate had helped attract the Mars Company to build a facility in Topeka and said repealing the standards could hamper the state’s ability to attract environmentally conscious companies.
Knox said he did not intend to abuse the wind industry. He noted there are wind farms in his district and called windmills “gods of the prairie.” But he argued that the wind industry should stand on its own without the mandate propping it up.
But some senators who vocally supported the repeal clearly took issue with the growth of wind power.
“When I drive through western Kansas and see these wind turbines, it just puts my heart out, to see that beautiful land with all them turbines, some of them turning, some of them not,” said Sen. Robert Olson, R-Olathe.
He was one of several legislators who complained that the renewable energy standards were part of a compromise that was also supposed to result in the building of a coal plant in Holcomb.
“We held up our agreement. They didn’t,” Olson said.
Plans to build the plant have been held up in federal court.