John Feehery: Don’t delay Kansas’ renewable-energy revolution

03/27/2013 12:00 AM

03/26/2013 4:10 PM

This week, the Kansas House of Representatives is set to reconsider House Bill 2241, which would delay the implementation of the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard. Creating this delay would threaten the continued development of the state’s abundant wind resource and halt the economic benefits. Wind and the state RPS work in Kansas, especially so in rural districts that more often than not vote Republican, so this is a policy that has surely earned bipartisan support.

As a lifelong Republican, and having worked for former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, I know the importance of supporting good legislation that stimulates economic development for constituents. Like the Hutchinson Chamber of Commerce and other trusted voices, therefore, I believe it’s important to vote down House Bill 2241 and keep investment flowing into Kansas.

Since the first Kansas utility-scale wind farm was built in 2001, more than 13,000 in-state jobs have been created in wind power.

New wind-energy component manufacturing facilities recently have been built or announced in Hutchinson, Junction City, Ottawa and Newton. Those factories provide economic opportunities in rural communities that are often the most in need.

It should not be a surprise that wind energy has become popular in rural America. Besides pumping billions of dollars into the economy, more than 98 percent of wind farms are located on private land and so provide farmers and ranchers with extra cash through lease payments.

And unlike other energy sources, operating wind farms requires no water. Last year, wind-power development avoided the use of 36.6 billion gallons nationwide. For farmers, access to water can make or break a growing season, and developing wind power helps avoid diverting this valuable resource into energy production.

While domestic wind is not the only solution to our energy security and independence, it is certainly a part of it. The Kansas RPS has been successful in diversifying the state’s energy portfolio, as now nearly 15 percent of the state’s energy comes from renewable sources that will never run out – mostly in the form of wind energy.

Just last year, $3 billion in private investment poured into Kansas to build new wind projects. That capital investment creates new tax base to pay for the schools, hospitals, roads and public safety workers that create vibrant communities.

And Kansas consumers benefit because wind power provides a hedge against the volatile prices for fuel. A May 2012 report from Synapse Energy Economics found that adding wind power in the Midwest will save households up to $200 a year by 2020.

If the Legislature were to delay its RPS, Kansas could risk losing investment across state lines to Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska or Colorado. Setting that type of precedent would potentially discourage private investment at a time when many states and rural communities are desperate for new sources of economic activity.

I am all for an all-of-the-above energy policy. I am for coal, natural gas and nuclear. But I am also for a continuation of policies that drive money into people’s pockets.

House Bill 2241 creates a clear choice. Weakening or eliminating the Kansas RPS would close the door on new investment in the state, and that’s not in the interest of constituents. I hope legislators will respond with a clear signal that demonstrates that they recognize the importance of policy certainty to investors, and that keeps the door open for business.

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