So there will be no legislative fight over wind energy this year, and renewable energy producers will know where they stand in Kansas. That’s about the best that can be said of a compromise on a fast track to the governor’s desk.
Six years ago, the Legislature and then-Gov. Mark Parkinson threw open the state’s borders to wind investment with the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) mandating that green-energy resources account for 20 percent of utilities’ capacity to generate electricity by 2020. It was part of a deal struck to allow an expansion of a coal-fired power plant near Holcomb. Though the power plant is pending, most of the state’s utilities have reached the 20 percent level for renewables. Proponents credit the RPS with helping the state add 12,000 good jobs and attract $8 billion in investment.
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity have sought to repeal the RPS ever since, only to see their free-market argument hit resistance in the House. But last week House members overwhelmingly passed legislation reflecting the compromise deal, which had been unveiled just four days earlier. The Senate is more than likely to concur.
The bill would turn the RPS mandate into a nonbinding goal, and give new wind-energy projects a 10-year property tax exemption.
The agreement was a bigger win for the anti-RPS voices than for the wind advocates, because without it wind producers were facing proposals to impose a 3.4 percent excise tax on production and to eliminate the property tax break much sooner.
What looks like a coercive negotiation should result in a more certain marketplace, though. As it was, said Kimberly Svaty, a lobbyist for the Wind Coalition, “some of our developers started saying to us, ‘Kansas is becoming an unstable place to do business,’ ‘we’re not attracted to Kansas,’ ‘we’ll probably look to other states because the resource is comparable there and we don’t have this constant back-and-forth going on.’”
Wind-energy proponents and farmers and other residents who’ve seen what wind farms can do to the rural economy will have to hope the industry has enough vigor to remain strong and get stronger. One of the RPS defenders now on the compromise’s side, Rep. Russ Jennings, R-Lakin, thinks the goal will encourage companies to reach for 30 percent.
Meanwhile, Brownback and lawmakers should seek other ways to promote Kansas as a wind powerhouse. Kansas ranks second among states in wind-energy potential but only sixth in production since 2012. If Kansas expects to realize Brownback’s goal of becoming the “Saudi Arabia of wind,” the state should aim higher than a nonbinding goal that’s nearly been met already.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman