Wind energy a force in Kansas, industry report says

Source: By Scott Rothschild, Lawrence Journal-World • Posted: Friday, April 11, 2014

Kansas has nearly doubled its wind power generation over the past two years, according to a wind industry report released Thursday.

“Wind energy development in Kansas has a full head of steam,” said Rod Freeman, chief executive officer of TradeWind Energy.

But there are problems swirling on the horizon.

The late extension of the federal Production Tax Credit in 2013 resulted in a 92 percent drop in completed installations nationwide, according to the American Wind Energy Association’s sixth annual market report, which was released during a meeting in Lenexa.

That tax credit expired at the end of last year, and its future is iffy.

In addition, in Kansas, wind energy has come under attack from powerful groups that want to do away with the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires electric utilities to hit certain benchmarks in providing energy through renewable sources.

The new report shows that wind energy in Kansas has taken off.

Wind power produces nearly 20 percent of the state’s generation, up from 11 percent in 2012.

The report said Kansas has the second highest wind potential in the United States, ranks seventh in installed wind capacity, third for percentage of electricity coming from wind energy, and sixth for the number of wind-related jobs.

“Kansans overwhelmingly support a cleaner, more sustainable future when it comes to how we generate electricity in this country,” Freeman said.

Randi Tveitaraas Jack, who manages the international business recruitment program with the Kansas Department of Commerce, said wind energy has produced a significant boost to the state’s economy.

“Our state’s wind energy potential has led to investment and job creation all across Kansas, with projects ranging from the development of wind farms to the expansion of nacelle manufacturing,” she said.

In 2009, Kansas approved the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which this year has been targeted by the state’s leading business organization, the Kansas Chamber, and Americans for Prosperity, a powerful group that waged a long-running ad campaign against the RPS.

Last month, the Kansas Senate voted to repeal the RPS.

Opponents of RPS say the standards are anti-free market and result in higher electric rates. “By its nature, the RPS injects the government hand into the energy marketplace by stipulating the sources of our energy. There is no doubt this policy picks a winner and a loser,” said Jeff Glendening, Kansas state director for AFP.

But the repeal effort was rejected in the House by supporters of the RPS who said the standards paved the way for wind development and attracted other industries seeking a diversified energy source.

When the Legislature returns for the wrap-up session April 30 there is still the possibility that efforts will resume to repeal the RPS.

Pete Ferrell, who developed one of the first wind farms in Kansas on his ranch in Elk County, said wind energy helped him survive the drought.

“The wind is my most drought resilient crop,” he said. He said removing the RPS “would send a terrible message to the general public about the value of renewables.”

Elizabeth Salerno, vice president of industry data and analysis for AWEA, said state renewable standards and federal tax credits have helped promote wind energy and that has been good for the economy by bringing new manufacturing jobs to Kansas and annual lease payments to rural communities.

In addition to concerns about the RPS, Salerno said wind developers want to see reinstatement of the Production Tax Credit, which expired at the end of 2013 but will still apply to all projects under way before that.

“New projects and research and development and all those forward-looking activities are somewhat inhibited right now or put on pause,” she said.

And as far as the RPS being anti-free market, Salerno said, “The power sector has never been a free market. Utilities are regulated. Every step of the way there is a policy to support domestic power production and encourage development.”

She said polls show that Americans support these policies.