Green energy rule for Kansas utilities survives

May 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have preserved a requirement that utilities rely on wind and other renewable resources to generate some of their electricity, despite months of lobbying by conservative groups for its repeal.

But the groups are promising to return to the Statehouse next year to renew their campaign against a law mandating that utilities have renewable resources cover 20 percent of their peak generating capacities by 2020. And lawmakers on both sides of the issue expect another debate.

Critics of the green-energy mandate could get a bill repealing it through the Senate this year but not the House. They were pursuing a new proposal Friday, as lawmakers were wrapping up their business for the year, but the House voted 63-60 to block debates in either chamber. Legislators adjourned early Saturday.

“It will be a priority next year,” said Jeff Glendening, state director of the anti-tax, small-government group Americans for Prosperity, a leading backer of repealing the mandate.

Critics of the renewable-energy mandate also include the Kansas Chamber of Commerce — influential among GOP members of the Republican-dominated Legislature. And the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which counts dozens of Kansas legislators as members, has drafted model repeal legislation.

But some GOP legislators from rural areas consider wind energy an important part of the state’s economy and helped environmentalists stymie repeal proposals in the House. Though the margin Friday was narrow, environmentalists like Moti Rieber, an Overland Park rabbi, believed they could hold off more attempts to repeal the green-energy mandate.

“I think they’re annoyed by this,” said Rieber, the director of Kansas Interfaith Power and Light, a coalition of religious groups on environmental issues. “There’s a certain impatience with the fact that this is coming up again and again and again.”

The House vote Friday was on bypassing the Legislature’s general rule that all negotiators for the two chambers must sign off on the final version of legislation for it to be considered. Democrats negotiating on energy issues had refused because they didn’t want to repeal the renewable-energy requirement. Because that rule was not bypassed, debate on the measure was blocked.

“You can come to an issue with multiple reasons — environmental and economic — and that’s just fine,” said Rep. John Wilson, a Lawrence Democrat.

The green-energy rule was enacted in 2009. Critics argue that it increases electric rates and represents state government picking winners and losers in industry. And the ALEC called its model repeal legislation the proposed “Electricity Freedom Act.”

“With time, consumers will be aware of the out-of-pocket cost,” said Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican who supports repealing the mandate.

Americans for Prosperity reported spending more than $326,000 during the first three months of the year on television ads across the state, urging repeal of the mandate. The ads resumed as lawmakers were preparing to return to the Statehouse this week after their annual spring break.

The mandate requires utilities to have renewable resources cover 15 percent of their peak generating capacity, from 2016 through 2019, increasing it to 20 percent in 2020.

The proposal blocked Friday by the House would have frozen the requirement at 15 percent before repealing it in 2020.

Supporters of the mandate noted that that the utility-regulating Kansas Corporation Commission has estimated that electricity generated with renewable resources accounts for less than 2.2 percent of Kansans’ bills. They also said the mandate sends a strong message to renewable energy companies that Kansas is welcoming.

“If we want to be business-friendly, pro-jobs, and stimulate the economy in Kansas, we do it with wind energy,” said Rep. Steven Becker, a Buhler Republican.



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