Talk about energy efficiency with Paul Johnson

December 5, 2006

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Paul Johnson, a lobbyist for Kansas Catholic Conference, has fought for programs to help people weatherize their homes. Johnson hopes the Legislature will work toward helping Kansans become more efficient energy users. "At least a quarter of our energy, especially home-based, is wasted," Johnson said.

Moderator:

Good afternooon. This is Dennis Anderson, managing editor of the Lawrence Journal-World. Our guest for today's online chat is Paul Johnson, a legislative advocate for the Kansas Catholic Conference. Welcome Paul.

Paul Johnson:

Thank you for inviting me.

Moderator:

Paul, what are your responsibilities as a legislative advocate for the Kansas Catholic Conference?

Paul Johnson:

I monitor legislation before the Kansas Legislature on topic of poverty, affordable housing, energy and family farm issues. I work with legislators and policy makers to develop ideas on these topics.

Moderator:

Here comes the first question.

Confrontation:

Thank you for all of your hard work on behalf of those who need weatherization assistance. Lawrence is full of poor quality rental properties. Do landlords have any weatherization criteria that they have to meet, or do the tenants accept the full responsibility?

Paul Johnson:

Unfortunately, the tenants do accept most of the responsibility. Only now is the state of Kansas and the Kansas Corporation Commission starting to debate the plight of renters in having to pay their utility bills but having no control over insulation of the dwelling or the age of the furnace. The Kansas Energy Council will propose legislation next session to increase the number of quality energy audits and try to target financing for weatherization. I hope that rental property is given a fair share of those programs.

Moderator:

How many people are there in Kansas who are without reliable heat in the winter?

Paul Johnson:

I doubt anybody in state government has that number. The Kansas Corporation Commission has a cold weather rule that supposedly connects all dwellings to utility service in the winter. During the summer, we have anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 households that are cut off once the cold weather rule ends in April. There is no targeting of assistance to those particular household.

Moderator:

Are those the household you are trying to serve?

Paul Johnson:

Advocates would like to see a coordinated plan to target the homes that use excessive energy to provide weatherization and conservation services. Many of these households are rentals and the landlords will have to assist in getting these programs. One problem is that our state weatherization program assists 2,000 households a year and there are year-long waiting lists for these limited funds in comparison SRS' low-income home energy assistance program helped 46,000 households last winter.

Moderator:

Where does that money come from?

Paul Johnson:

Until last year, SRS' LIEAP and the weatherization program were funded soley by federal dollars. The Kansas Legislature put $2 million of state funds in the weatherization program and started a new home insulation loan program with new state dollars.

Moderator:

The Kansas Corporation Commission regulates 75 percent of the natural gas and electric sales in the Kansas. What does that mean for the future?

Paul Johnson:

Energey conservation programs will now be discussed along with new power plants as a way of providing the most efficient engery services. In state such as California, energy efficiency investments such as new lighting, better motors, ihigher-rated air conditioners will cost consumers 2 to 3 cents per kilowatt hour as opposed to 6-cent per kilowatt hour for new coal plants. At this point, Kansas or the KCC has not collected adequate information to make this energy comparison.

Moderator:

What is the next most important step for the governot related to this issue?

Paul Johnson:

There is an open position on the Kansas Corporation Commission. The appointment should have been made last April. There are three members on the Kansas Corporation Commission. The governor's first appointment to the KCC was an oil and gas lobbist. Her second appointment was a consultant to Southwestern Bell. It's very important that her third appointment be a strong consumer advocate that will debate all options in providing the most cost-effective energy services.

Moderator:

What are some of the ways the state can improve energy efficiencies?

Paul Johnson:

One example is that the state of Kansas sold eneregy conservation bonds for KU Med and Kansas State University. The funds were used for various energy improvements and the utility savings were used to repay these energy bonds. The state of Kansas should establish a pool of energy conservation bonds for commericial and industrial customers. The state is working with school systems in a fashion. The Kansas Energy Office has approved four energy service corporations that schools can use to assess energy saving potential and help fund these energy improvements.

Moderator:

What more could utilities do in terms of energy conservation?

Paul Johnson:

One example is in the state of Vermont. All of the utilities there helped fund an energy conservation utility knows as Efficiency Vermont. This utility works with all new development such as apartment complexes or business expansions to provide state-of-the-art advice on energy investments. This utility has the funding to help and apartment developer put in the best lighting and most efficient heating/cooling equipment, thus saving the residents hundreds of dollars on utility bills and lessens the need for new power sources.

Moderator:

What new legislation might we see from the Kansas Energy Council?

Paul Johnson:

One piece of legislation will promote comprehensive energy audits for residential customers. There's still a debate over how to finance the recommended energy conservation improvements. As second piece of legislation will inform new homebuyers of the energy efficiencies of new homes similar to a miles-per-gallon sticker on a car.

Moderator:

I want to thank Paul Johnson for his time today.

Paul Johnson:

Kansas has turned the corner on the energy debate. Since 1997 we have become a major importer of energy and costs are going much higher. An energy debate has thus started and it needs the leadership of this governor and the Kansas Legislature. A spirited debate will be seen in the coming legislative session.

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