Kan. House blocks last-minute attempt to nullify renewable standard

Source: Jeffrey Tomich, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, May 6, 2014

In the final hours before it recessed for the year, the Kansas House of Representatives narrowly defeated another attempt by conservative lawmakers to effectively pull the plug on the state’s renewable energy mandate.

The House voted 63-60 on Friday afternoon to block a measure that would have capped the renewable standard for utilities at 15 percent of retail load instead of 20 percent and done away with the requirement altogether in 2021.The legislative proposal was cast by Republican backers as a compromise after the same chamber voted down a bill that would have repealed the green energy mandate altogether.

But clean energy advocates argued that there was no compromise because the measure would have achieved the same results.

Kansas in 2009 became the last of 30 states across the country to enact a renewable energy standard. The law specifically requires investor-owned utilities and electric cooperatives to meet an increasing portion of annual peak demand with energy from the sun, wind or biomass. The current requirement is 10 percent, a level that steps up to 15 percent next year and 20 percent in 2020.

A Kansas Corporation Commission report to the Legislature earlier this year shows that utilities subject to the law are already in compliance with next year’s 15 percent requirement or on track to meet it.

Debate over Kansas’ renewable energy law has surfaced repeatedly over the last three years in the state Capitol. The issue took on a higher profile this spring when the Kansas Chamber of Commerce made repeal of the renewable energy law one of its legislative priorities (EnergyWire, Jan. 23).

The legislative battle has also drawn national attention because the state is among the nation’s largest wind energy producers. Kansas is also home to Charles and David Koch, co-founders of Americans for Prosperity, a group at the forefront of efforts to abolish green power mandates.

Dorothy Barnett, executive director of the Climate and Energy Project, a Kansas nonprofit clean energy advocacy group, expects the battle over Kansas’ renewable standard to surface again in 2015.

“I have no reason to believe that they are ready to give this up,” she said after Friday’s House vote. “There’s an army of lobbyists walking around here on their behalf.”

Indeed, Americans for Prosperity’s Jeff Glendening, state director for the group’s Kansas chapter, told the Associated Press, “We fully intend to come back next year, and it will be an issue next year.”

While a core group of conservative lawmakers continue to back a repeal of Kansas’ renewable law, the standard has survived only with the backing of Republican legislators.

During a brief discussion on the House floor Friday, Rep. Steven Becker, a Republican from Buhler, said the continued threat to the renewable energy law is bad for business.

His district includes the town of Hutchinson in south-central Kansas, which is home to a Siemens factory, a plant that will help fulfill a $1 billion order for wind turbines from Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy.

Becker said Siemens suppliers have considered locating operations near the Kansas plant, but they’ve held back because of the message sent by continued efforts to repeal the renewable energy law.

“If we want to be business-friendly, support jobs, we do it with wind energy,” he said. “It’s a resource we must have and can use to keep the economy on track.”