House refuses to repeal renewable energy standards

03/26/2014 1:08 PM

08/08/2014 10:23 AM

Renewable energy standards aren’t going away in Kansas – at least not yet.

Less than 24 hours after the Senate voted to repeal a renewable energy mandate for utility companies, the House refused to do so Wednesday.

House Bill 2014 would have repealed a state requirement that utility companies get 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020.

A coalition of Democrats and Republicans opposed the repeal on economic grounds.

They contended that repealing the standards would send the wrong message and hurt the growth of the increasingly important wind energy industry, which has brought billions of dollars of investment to the state and created thousands of jobs, especially in western Kansas.

“This energy is an export every bit as much as airplanes,” said Rep. Russ Jennings, R-Lakin, who led the revolt against the bill.

Americans For Prosperity and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce have lobbied hard for the Legislature to ditch the requirement, which is known as the renewable portfolio standard, or RPS. The organizations contend it undermines the free market and could increase electric rates now that a federal tax break for wind production has expired.

Some House members voiced disdain for how the Senate had passed the bill Tuesday. Senators had placed the repeal of the standard in an unrelated bill passed by the House earlier in the year.

But most of all, the issue of jobs dominated the debate.

Many legislators from western Kansas rose to the podium to laud the impact of wind industry in their districts.

Rep. Steven Becker, R-Buhler, said that a Siemens plant in Hutchinson that manufactures parts for wind turbines has been a boon to Reno County’s economy.

“I extremely, extremely believe that this is the future of Kansas’ economy. Just like other states have the oil and other unique factors that drive their economies we can have wind that drives ours,” Becker said.

Other legislators said the repeal attempt was not anti-wind.

Rep. Craig McPherson, R-Overland Park, said repeal would be a victory for the wind industry, because it would show the industry can stand on its own. He said the debate was about political philosophy and whether representatives supported a free market.

However, Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, who has repeatedly criticized health care mandates on the House floor, said the energy industry differs from other markets. He noted that as a consumer he has only one choice of provider and if he wants clean energy he can only obtain that if his provider supplies that.

“I don’t get a choice. I don’t have a free market,” Schwab said.

Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, who carried the bill on the Senate floor Tuesday night, had contended that the expiration of federal tax credits for wind production make a renewable energy requirement untenable. He predicted an increase in rates that would cost home owners and business owners millions.

But on the House floor, Jennings said that rate increases had primarily been caused by regulations on fossil fuels and that clean energy helps stabilize electric rates.

House members rejected the issue three times. First they voted against sending the bill into conference committee without a House debate. Then they voted down a motion to concur with the Senate and pass the bill by a count of 77-44.

And just to drive the point home, they voted against a motion to reconsider, effectively tabling the repeal for the time being.

Supporters of the bill said they were undeterred by the House votes.

“It goes down on the other side. That’s the process. … My arguments are sound, but I believe in the process and this is part of that process,” Knox said.

Jeff Glendening, the Kansas director of Americans For Prosperity, said in a phone call that the issue is far from over this session. He chalked up the House votes to confusion on the floor. He also said that a vote in favor of the bill is a “vote for the ratepayers of Kansas.”

“This is a great opportunity for legislators, many who have campaigned in the past on the idea of supporting the free market and supporting the idea of limited to government, to show that support,” he said.

But Moti Rieber, a rabbi who serves as coordinator of Kansas Interfaith Power and Light and who helped lead opposition to the repeal, said the only arguments against the standards are “based on a faulty ideology.”

He noted that the House votes show “wind is a bipartisan issue,” and he celebrated the victory for wind proponents.

“I feel like the end of ‘Return of the Jedi,’” he said.

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