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House rejects another attempt to repeal renewable energy standards

By Trevor Graff | May 02, 2014

The Kansas House of Representatives voted Friday against a bill that would repeal renewable energy standards after 2021 that require the state’s utilities to generate clean energy.

The sunset legislation, voted down 63-60, was billed as a compromise by Republican leaders attempting to repeal the standards. If passed, Kansas utilities would have been required to provide 15 percent of their energy portfolio in renewable energy from 2015 to 2021. After that time, the regulations would disappear.

The bill, Senate Bill 84, was billed as a compromise between pro-wind forces and those looking for repeal. The pro-wind lobby said the move was a compromise in wording only.

In western Kansas, some farmers watched their legislators with a sharp eye. Many living in parts of the state that have seen the most wind development say the industry is key to their economic well-being.

Earl Smith grew up on his family farm in Wichita County. For the Smiths, wind energy has provided supplemental income in times of drought and what he says is an economic boost for his community.

“Wind energy has become very important for farmers and communities both,” Smith said. “We need all the jobs and production out in western Kansas we can get. We really just need anything we can get for growth out here, because we just continue to shrink and lose our population.”

Wind power advocates and many western Kansas legislators agree with Smith’s sentiment. But opponents of the industry’s mandate - including the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity - disagree, saying that the energy source is driving up Kansas utility rates.

Smith has no doubt of the benefits of wind energy. The eight wind turbines on his land take up eight acres of his farm ground. The surrounding turbines of Westar’s Central Plains Wind Farm provide $500,000 annually in subsidies to landowners and a payment of more than $250,000 annually to the county.

He said repealing the standard would send the wrong message to the industry.

“If we don’t bring the wind energy into this state, other states are going to pick up what we leave behind,” Smith said. “If Kansas isn’t progressive in developing the wind farms, they will build them without us. We might as well be with them instead of out in left field watching them being built around us.”

In Topeka, the measure has drawn the ire of legislators in the seventh attempt to repeal the energy standards. Friday’s debate on the House floor centered largely on the procedure involved in getting the seventh attempt to repeal the standards to the floor.

Several opponents of the bill said that the legislation existed in concept only and that they did not have an opportunity to read Senate Bill 84 – a former bill on taxation from previous sessions used as a vehicle to provide another attempt at repealing the standards – prior to legislators working it in conference committee.

“Generally when you go into a conference committee, members in your chamber go in to debate a House position,” said Rep. Annie Kuether, a Topeka Democrat. “There is no House position on this issue.”

Kuether said the original renewable energy standards bill was still tabled in the energy committee because it wasn’t good legislation. If it had been, she said, it would have been brought to the House floor for a thorough debate.

“This is not a compromise,” Kuether said. “This is something that was put together by a Senate committee, not by the Senate chamber, not by a House committee and not by the House chamber. This is not a compromise that any of us put together.”

Kuether cautioned House members, saying legislators should wait to take up the energy standards again in the next session when an adequate debate is possible.

Dennis Hedke, a Wichita Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Environment, said there was a strong sentiment from members of the House to end discussion on the topic.

“This matter does deserve a thorough discussion in this chamber, and I think it’s time for that to happen,” Hedke said. “This is not some sort of 'lay it up there and try to get a vote count' for whatever purposes. This is a significant policy matter that I think the people of Kansas deserve to hear about, and I would disagree that the House doesn’t have a position.”

House members once again voted to suppress the bill. The 63-60 vote sends the legislation back to its conference committee, effectively ending the debate for the near future.

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