Friday, March 1, 2013

Kansas Legislature Rejects Koch-Backed Effort To Chip Away At Renewable Energy Standards

The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that twin votes in Kansas State House and Senate on Thursday put the kibosh on legislative efforts to roll back and delay Kansas' renewable energy standard (RES).

Passed in 2009, Kansas' RES requires investor-owned utilities to generate 20 percent of peak demand electrical capacity from renewable sources by 2020. The American Wind Energy Association has actually highlighted the RES as a driving factor in the states burgeoning wind power sector - half of Kansas' wind farms began operating between 2010 and 2012, after the RES went into effect.

Unfortunately, Kansas has also been targeted by conservative anti-renewable efforts. Republican Rep. Dennis Hedke, the chairman of Kansas' House Energy and Environment Committee, recently acknowledged he had private talks with a lobbyist for Koch Companies Public Sector LLC concerning the House bill to dilute the RES. (HB 2241) Even anti-tax activist Graver Norquist got in on the action, telling the state's legislature it ought to abandon the "costly renewable energy mandate so as to mitigate its negative impact on the economy."

But to Kansas' credit, it looks like neither effort bore fruit:

[T]he Senate responded by voting 17-23 to defeat Senate Bill 82 that would have postponed the deadline for complying with the Kansas renewable portfolio standard. Instead of Kansas utilities reaching 15 percent of power from wind, solar or other alternative source in 2016, the bill would have moved the date to 2018. The measure also pushed the 20 percent mandate to 2024 from 2020. [...]

The House answered by voting 63-59 to send House Bill 2241 back to a committee for additional deliberation. This measure would amend the state's portfolio standard to declare 15 percent must be met by 2018, but the 20 percent target would be dropped.

House Republicans and Democrats supportive of the motion said previous House committee work on the bill was flawed, while other representatives questioned the goal of rewriting the state's renewable energy standard because the amendment would remove "regulatory certainty" for business.

"I would suggest we exercise prudent restraint," said Rep. Russell Jennings, R-Lakin. "In fairness to business, and in fairness to the people of Kansas, they need some certainty."

Kansas is one of many states in which organizations like The Heartland Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council have been lobbying against renewable energy policy, and pushing "model legislation" to undo renewable standards - part of a broader shift by conservative organizations recently to attack clean energy efforts at the state level.

Nor is renewable energy the only policy area in which conservatives and climate change skeptics have tried to convince Kansas to set back its own advancement - often with the aforementioned Rep. Hedke, a contract geophysicist with a client list that includes 30 regional oil and gas companies, at the lead. Earlier this year, Hedke introduced a bill, HB 2366, that would prohibit public funds from being used "either directly or indirectly, to promote, support, mandate, require, order, incentivize, advocate, plan for, participate in or implement sustainable development." Another Kansas House committee recently put forward a law - likely the product of ALEC's "model legislation" - requiring the state's educators to teach students "evidence which both supports and counters" the science of climate change.

In all these cases, Kansas would be wise to continue pushing back right-wing efforts while moving ahead with clean energy policy. Kansas is one of the Plains states that's been wracked by record-breaking droughts over the last few years, likely driven by global warming, as well as other forms of economically damaging extreme weather.


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