Kansas’ ruling GOP majority is as unified as it is conservative on many issues. But a decision looms about renewable energy standards in which geography and business interests could matter as much as free-market ideology. The stakes include Kansas’ status as a wind-energy leader.
As part of a deal to allow a still-unbuilt coal-fired power plant near Holcomb, the 2009 Legislature passed the renewable energy standards, which mandate that major electric utility companies in Kansas generate or buy an increasing amount of energy from renewable sources. The law called for their renewable generation capacity to be 10 percent by 2010, 15 percent by 2016 and 20 percent by 2020.
Opponents unsuccessfully tried to weaken the standards last spring. Last month House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, told the Wichita Pachyderm Club that the RES law “is costing the utility ratepayers” and he expects the 2014 Legislature to repeal it.
Not coincidentally – as Merrick and Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, are both on the board of the American Legislative Exchange Council – the Koch-backed ALEC’s agenda for 2014 reportedly includes trying to roll back such green-energy mandates in the 30 states that have them. Similarly, U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, has advocated for letting the federal wind-energy production tax credit expire at the end of the year.
But the RES and federal tax credit have been credited with helping Kansas draw $3 billion in wind-power investment in 2011 and 2012, as Kansas landowners received an estimated $273 million from leasing their land for turbines.
And repeal of the RES may not be a done deal in Topeka, given the support for such pro-wind policies among Republicans in the state. Not only did Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran support extending the wind tax credit for the current year, but Gov. Sam Brownback is part of the bipartisan Governors’ Wind Energy Coalition. Brownback signed its Nov. 6 letter urging congressional leaders to pass a multiyear extension of the federal credit. The coalition’s “Renewable Electricity Standards: State Success Stories” earlier this year also touted Kansas utilities’ “reported rate increases of less than 1.7 percent to cover required renewable energy investments in 2012 and 2013” and concluded: “Renewable energy standards deliver jobs and economic benefits to rural areas and cities alike, all while insulating consumers from fuel price risks and building America’s global competitiveness in a growing market for new technology.”
Kansans with a stake in this RES debate, and that’s everybody who uses energy, will need to watch closely and be heard.