Efforts to put Kansas in the forefront of a nationwide effort to rollback renewable energy standards were sidetracked today by a House committee.
The House Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted narrowly to table a bill to push back deadlines that utilities must meet for increasing their use of renewable energy.
The 10-9 vote to table the measure didn't kill it but it was the third legislative setback suffered by forces seeking to weaken the standards, which were passed in 2009 as part of a compromise that cleared the way for regulatory approval of a new, coal-fired power plant in southwest Kansas that still hasn't been built.
The standards require Kansas utilities to obtain 20 percent of the power they sell from renewable sources such as wind and solar.
The House last month sent a bill back to committee that would have capped the standards. On the same day, the Senate rejected a bill that would have extended the deadlines for utilities to meet the standards. The measure tabled today by the House committee would have reduced the standard to 17.5 percent and given utilities until 2030 to meet it.
'A little ridiculous'
Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican, said efforts by opponents of the state’s renewable energy portfolio standards had “gotten a little bit ridiculous.”
“It’s becoming comical,” he said. “It’s not going to change your electric bill. What are we doing here? I don’t get it.”
In response, Rep. Dennis Hedke, the Wichita Republican who chairs the committee, said, “I disagree that this is some kind of circus.”
Reducing the 20 percent standard by a couple of percentage points and giving utilities more time to meet it, “would provide some relief to ratepayers,” Hedke asserted.
But others on the committee disagreed.
“That’s just not true,” said Rep. Tom Moxley, a Republican from Council Grove. “When you look at the numbers, almost none of that (increase in electric rates) comes from wind costs.”
The numbers Moxley referred to were compiled by the Kansas Corporation Commission, the state’s utility regulatory agency. The KCC found that the standards have had a negligible impact on electric rates through 2012 – adding only .72 cents to the average cost of 9.2 cents per kilowatt hour.
Wind energy investments
Supporters of the standards say while they’ve had little effect on rates they’ve had a big impact on the state’s economy. In 2012 alone, developers invested more than $3 billion in Kansas wind projects, according to The Wind Coalition, a nonprofit association formed to encourage development of wind energy in several south-central states.
Dave Kerr, a former president of the Kansas Senate, said the standards also helped convince Siemens to build a new plant in Hutchinson to manufacture components for wind turbines. Kerr, a Republican who headed the Hutchinson Chamber of Commerce after leaving the Legislature, said the effort to roll back the standards was being pushed here and in other states by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a controversial national organization that brings corporations and state legislators together to promote “free markets and limited government.”
“A lot of people just seem to kind of blindly follow what ALEC recommends and quite honestly that’s one of the things that brings me in on the other side,” Kerr said. “I don’t like outside organizations telling Kansans what they need to do. So, ALEC model legislation repealing energy portfolio standards is something that I don’t think is a good idea.”
The current president of the Senate, Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, and Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stillwell Republican, both serve on ALEC’s 16-member board of directors. The organization’s role in the nationwide effort to weaken renewable energy standards was the subject of a recent article in Salon.com.
Documentary in the works
Margaret Ebrahim, a senior editor at the Investigative Reporting Workshop, was at the Statehouse Tuesday with a film crew to cover the hearing for a documentary she is producing for a series on climate change to be called Years of Living Dangerously that will air on the Showtime cable channel in 2014.
The Investigative Reporting Workshop is a project of the School of Communication at American University in Washington, D.C., where Ebrahim also works as an instructor. Previously, Ebrahim worked on investigative programs for the CBS and ABC networks and helped to build the Center for Public Integrity, one of the nation’s first nonprofit, investigative journalism groups.
The KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute. It is supported in part by a variety of underwriters. The News Service is committed to timely, objective and in-depth coverage of health issues and the policy-making environment. All News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution, including a link back to KHI.org when a story is reposted online. An automatically updated feed of headlines and more from KHI can be included on your website using the KHI widget. More about the News Service at khi.org/newsservice or contact us at (785) 233-5443.