Measure would delay renewable energy mandates in Kansas

A bill that would delay renewable energy mandates in Kansas is being considered by the state Senate Utilities Committee.

Senate Bill 82 seeks to amend current statutes that require the Kansas Corporation Commission to establish renewable portfolio standards that would require energy companies to have net renewable generation capacities of 10 percent by 2011, 15 percent by 2016 and at least 20 percent by 2020.

Instead, it would require net renewable capacities of 15 percent by 2018 and at least 20 percent by 2024.

The bill allows for further delays for companies that can provide “good cause.” Listed among those causes are availability of firm transmission service or excessive cost to retail customers.

“Our renewable portfolio standards are a failure,” Charlotte O’Hara, a former state representative, said. “They have resulted in higher energy costs, haven’t secured the permit to build the Holcomb plant and are not the answer to our energy independence. It’s time to recognize this failure.”

The Kansas Renewable Standards Act passed in 2009 set the initial standards, but also permitted the building of an 895-watt coal-fired power plant in Holcomb. Courts ruled in January 2012 that the expansion could not proceed without first undergoing an environmental review.

“Fast forward to 2013, and four years down the road we see that neither reason has stood the test of time,” O’Hara said. “We now have a 42 percent increase in electric rates. We do not have the Holcomb plant and we are now beginning to see that in Kansas, our real future is going to be in oil and gas.”

Opponents of the bill say that it would send a negative message to the renewable energy industries spurring growth in Kansas. According to the Wind Coalition, more than $3 billion was invested in Kansas wind energy in 2012. This investment equates to more than 13,000 jobs created in Kansas since the first project began in 2005.

“To my knowledge, not one of the 30 states with a RPS has modified or eliminated that policy,” said Matt Riley, CEO of Infinity Wind Power. “Kansas would be the first, sending a shockwave through our industry by saying, ‘Thank you for your $3 billion investment in 2012, but you aren’t welcome here anymore.’ ”

Several opponents cited the unclear standard for proof of good cause within the bill. Holly Carias of NextEra Energy, the largest owner and operator of U.S. wind generating facilities, said the company is concerned with the broad language describing the KCC’s ability to delay or waive the RPS requirements citing good cause.

“While there could be circumstances which would justify a delay, this action could promote inaction or delays among the utilities,” Carias said. “It doesn’t specify utilities should show a good faith effort to apply for firm transmission service in a timely fashion and to obtain renewable energy when the costs are economical.”

Kansas City Power & Light and Westar Energy representatives said that the bill would allow for flexibility with current transmission constraints and expenditures.

“We’re neutral on this bill, but it does allow some flexibility to spread out the expenditures on our balance sheet,” said Mark Schreiber, director of public affairs at Westar Energy.