Climate

In Kansas, Renewable Energy Could Soon Be A Goal, Not A Requirement

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Supporters say rolling back the RPS won't damage Kansas' wind industry.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R), along with representatives from the wind energy industry, legislative leadership, and conservative and business groups, announced a deal Monday to make the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) optional, rather than a mandate.

The agreement is the culmination of several attempts to roll back the RPS, which requires utilities to get 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources, such as wind and solar. Last year, Brownback urged wind energy and conservative business groups to come to a compromise on the issue.

“This gets us to stable policy atmosphere,” Gov. Brownback said Monday during a press conference. “I want to see the industry keep growing.”

Last year, wind provided 21.7 percent of all the electricity generated in Kansas, more than the 20 percent mandated under the RPS. The 2,967 megawatts (MW) of wind in the state — with another 827 MW under construction — has led to 12,000 jobs and $8 billion in investment, according to the Wind Coalition, an industry group involved in the negotiations.

In addition to removing the mandate, the agreement removes the perpetual property tax exemption for wind power production and replaces it with a 10-year exemption, which lawmakers said was in line with other energy sources. A previously proposed excise tax on wind was not included in the bill reflecting the compromise, introduced Monday afternoon in the House Energy and Utilities Committee.

“What the industry needs is a stable environment,” Wind Coalition spokesperson Kimberly Svaty said at the press conference.

She praised the RPS, though, saying it was a “strong reminder” of how state policies can foster economic development without using state funds.

“The RPS has been an economic engine for the state of Kansas since it was enacted five years ago,” she said. “Let’s surge past our goal and double our jobs and investment.”

Negotiated by state House and Senate leadership, the new bill is expected to pass easily. If does end up being enacted, the law would mean that utilities no longer have to invest in keeping their portfolios balanced with renewable energy sources.

But environmental groups expressed concern about the plan. Zack Pistoria, spokesman for the Kansas Sierra Club, told the Wichita Eagle the bill was “a backroom deal” that did not represent Kansans’ position on renewable energy.

A poll last year, funded in part by the Wind Coalition, along with several environmental groups, found that 75 percent of Kansas voters supported the RPS. More than 90 percent of respondents supported using renewable energy.

Industry insiders dispute the assertion that Kansas’ action is part of a larger trend, but in recent months several states, including Texas and North Carolina, have seen legislative challenges to their Renewable Portfolio Standards.

The challenges have largely been backed by business groups and Americans for Prosperity, a Koch Brothers-funded lobbying group. American For Prosperity’s Kansas chapter spent $383,000 from January through April 2014 on advertising to build support for repealing the RPS while two pro-wind groups spent about $57,000, according to the AP.

The RPS was signed into law in 2009 by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat who left Kansas government later that year to serve as Secretary for Health and Human Services in the Obama Administration.