Gov. Sam Brownback on Wednesday said he wants to set the process in motion to repeal energy standards requiring that Kansas get a certain amount of its power from wind.
The governor said he would support bringing together stakeholders, including wind advocates and opponents, to try to hammer out the elimination of the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires that Kansas utilities get at least 20 percent of their electric power from renewable sources by the year 2020.
In Kansas, large-scale renewable energy means wind power, generated from mammoth tower-mounted turbines at “wind farms” scattered across the state’s rural areas.
Wednesday marked the second time the governor has addressed the issue of wind power since the last legislative session, where a move to revoke the standards died in the House after flying through the Senate.
In July, Brownback told reporters that stakeholders should work on a compromise to phase out the rule. A few hours later, his office issued a statement saying the governor was actually calling for an end to federal tax breaks that subsidize the development of wind energy.
On Wednesday, the governor said he supports phasing out both the state and federal programs.
“The renewable portfolio standard – I’ve supported it, I think that’s been useful in getting the industry up and going,” he said. “But I think it’s something we also ought to discuss to see if there’s a way forward that you don’t need to continue to have that.
“I think you have to have all the parties at the table to do that; people that are interested in wind, people that don’t like the renewable portfolio standard. ’Cause in Kansas, that’s how you get things done, you get everybody sitting down together and saying, ‘OK. How is it we’re going to move this on forward?’ ”
The issue is huge in much of rural Kansas, where farmers see expanding wind energy as a way to earn extra money from lease payments for wind towers while still being able to farm around them.
An end to the wind standards would not have a large immediate effect on the state’s dominant power provider, Westar Energy.
The company has already built or contracted for enough wind power to meet about 19 percent of its needs, only 1 percentage point short of the 20 percent by 2020 mandate, said company spokeswoman Gina Penzig.
However, it could have a bigger impact going forward.
First, utilities would be freed from a mandate that after 2020 they stay at or above 20 percent renewable. That means new generation to accommodate growth would not have to have a renewable component, as it does now.
Second, most wind contracts are for 20 to 25 years, and Westar would not have to continue those contracts past their current terms.
The company began inking contracts adding wind to the system in 2007, Penzig said.
Penzig said the company is neutral on whether the standards should be kept or repealed but does plan to provide the Legislature with any information it requests to guide its decisions.
Westar owns 149 megawatts of its own wind-generating capacity.
When the Kay Wind Farm south of Arkansas City in Oklahoma comes on line in 2016, Westar will have 715 megawatts of wind power under contract from other energy providers, she said.
Brownback’s position on renewable energy could create a major dividing issue between him and House Minority Leader Paul Davis, his Democratic opponent in the November election. Davis is a strong supporter of wind energy.
“The future of wind in Kansas depends upon the continuation of the Renewable Portfolio Standard,” Davis said in a recent interview with The Eagle. “If Kansas were to repeal the Renewable Portfolio Standard, it sends a very strong message to the wind industry that we are not open for business, and you will see people back away from Kansas in a big way.”
The wind power standard came about through a 2009 tradeoff between Gov. Mark Parkinson and legislative leaders who wanted state approval to substantially expand a coal-fired power plant near Holcomb in western Kansas.
Parkinson’s predecessor, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, and her supporters in the Legislature had stymied the coal plant until she departed to take the job of Health and Human Services secretary in newly elected President Obama’s Cabinet.
Within days of taking over the governorship, Parkinson negotiated a deal with Republican leaders giving him renewable standards in exchange for his administration green-lighting the Holcomb coal plant.
However, the coal plant has not been built because of several factors, including federal environmental regulations, uncertainty within the industry over the future of coal power and a tightening of construction credit since the recession.
During the legislative session, Republican legislators said they were miffed that they had held up their end of the deal on renewable power but hadn’t gotten the coal plant they were promised.
Brownback’s remarks on renewable energy came as he rolled out the fourth and final phase of his “Road Map for Kansas 2.0” re-election campaign platform: natural resources management.
Most of Brownback’s comments dealt with water supply and quality.
He vowed to fight other states to make sure Kansas gets its fair share of the water that flows across the Great Plains and to fight the federal government for state control of water-quality standards.
He also promised to continue implementing a 50-year water plan developed by the state Water Office, the Department of Agriculture and local water agencies and to increase efforts to prevent silt from clogging the state’s reservoirs and reducing storage capacity.
Standing on the windswept bank of Cheney Lake, he said: “Some of our reservoirs are silted in or silting in. Several of them are up to 40 percent silted in.
“This one is not. This one is one of the less silted-in because people invested upstream in protecting the watershed from soil erosion and the soil getting into the reservoir. We’re going to need to do more of that protection work in our future.”
Brownback also praised what he called “market-based” solutions for water, especially “water banks,” a fledgling marketplace concept in which water users can purchase water from those who have water rights that exceed their needs.
Contributing: Bryan Lowry of The Eagle
Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.