Chat about the state's energy future with Rep. Tom Sloan

October 16, 2006

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

Rep. Tom Sloan

Rep. Tom Sloan (R, Lawrence) serves as Co-Chairman of the Midwest Legislative Conference' Energy Task Force. In that capacity he developed and chaired panels on new clean coal technologies to reduce air pollution, increased production of bio-fuels to expand rural economic opportunities and reduce air emissions by vehicles, and strategies to increase investments in energy conservation and efficiency to reduce home heating and cooling bills.


Hi folks! I'm Joel Mathis, managing editor for convergence. Rep. Sloan is here early - unusual for an elected official - so we'll get rolling.

Rep. Tom Sloan:

Hello - glad to have the opportunity to discuss water and energy issues.



What strides have been taken in cow manure... ehem.. let me rephrase:
Is cow manure a viable "bio-fuel"? Does Kansas enough feedlots to turn a profit by converting meadow muffins into energy?

Rep. Tom Sloan:

Intriguing question to begin our time together. There are several large hog farms in SW Kansas that are capturing the methane gas and converting that to both heat and electricity. This is a technology that is becoming cost-effective and politically desirable and I expect to see more feed lots develop this capability over the next few years.


Representative Sloan,
With all the concerns about the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer, what is your take on the development of large water consuming industries such as ethanol and coal-fired power plants in this region? Are 110 million gallon ethanol plants and 2+ GW of new coal generation sustainable in areas that rely on the Aquifer?

Rep. Tom Sloan:

Packman, Kansas water law requires that when water that has been allocated for agricultural use is "converted" to commercial or municipal use that less than 100% of the water rights are transferred. This is because agric. use returns the water to the ground and much of it is "recovered" through plant evaporation (ultimately in the form of rain) and seepage into the subsoil water table.

Municipal and commercial uses tend to result in less water being recycled.

The Legislature has tried to balance the value of water to each potential user, the long term impact on the environment and Aquifer, and the economic benefits to the state. There are limits to how much water in W. KS can be converted.

In direct response to your question about the power plants, they have acquired sufficient water rights, several thousand construction jobs will be created for approximately 10 years, the local economy will benefit significantly as will tax revenues, and permanent jobs that are created will pay above average. That is a long winded way of saying that the economic benefits to the region and the state will most likely prevail over concerns about aquifer depletion.


Given the current focus on ethanol as a alternative to traditional fossil fuels, how "renewable" is it really? My understanding that growing crops to produce ethanol requires water and that there is great concern about lower aquaifer and ground waters already. In essence wouldn't we be using a bunch of fresh water to power our cars? Does that make sense?

Rep. Tom Sloan:


There are several reasons for the excitement about ethanol's potential. First, it provides added value to the agriculture producers; second it is viewed as a way to reduce dependance on imported oil; and third it is viewed as an economic opportunity for rural areas - areas that are experiencing very significant population losses.

Douglas County Farm Bureau and Lawrence Chamber of Commerce have looked at the feasibility of a bio-diesel plant in this area. I believe the more likely sites are west and north of Douglas County.

Water is viewed as a source of hydrogen as the future fuel for operating motor vehicles. We are many years away from that being an economic and technological option. Hybrid vehicles with bio-fuels are most likely the best option for the next 10 years.


The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ordered Iowa's Midland Power Cooperative to provide net metering to a customer with a wind energy system. Does this ruling apply to Kansas?

Rep. Tom Sloan:

Yes. For readers not familiar with the issue - the FERC is the federal agency that regulates most electric transmission lines, relations between utilities, and some consumer-utility issues. The FERC Commissioners ruled that the Iowa utility had to provide net metering (customer with own electric generation - wind, solar, bio-mass, etc. - services.

Federal law requires all utilities to purchase "excess" electricity generated by residential and small business customers for the avoided cost that the utility would have experienced if it generated those same kilowatts. This effectively means that customers will receive the value of the fuel that was not burned. Kansas state law requires that utilities pay 1.5 times the avoided fuel costs.

Large scale consumer generation are considered wholesale generation units and are paid market price for the power; small scale units (e.g., less than 1 megawatt) are eligible for the higher price.

The Kansas Corporation Commission is required by the 2005 Federal Energy Act to determine how to implement higher prices to consumer-generators.


If I had $1,000 to invest in energy conservation for my family, what would be the best return on the dollar investment for me? How quickly would I recoup the money spent in energy dollars saved? Additionally, how would me and my neighbors spending those dollars help in the long run loss of non-renewable energy? And how would you convince enough of us to invest to make a difference?

Rep. Tom Sloan:

The most cost-effective investments in energy efficiency/conservation are:

1. Increased insulation in attics and other parts of the home;

2. Better windows and doors to prevent air infiltration;

3. Purchase of Energy Star appliances - Energy Star is a rating by the federal government designating those appliances that use the least energy. Furnaces, air conditioners, refrigerators, stoves, hot water heaters, etc. have ratings.

You should be able to recover the cost of your investment in energy efficient appliances and insulation in 3-5 years.

The Kansas Legislature will consider tax credits that compliment federal tax credits available now to purchase Energy Star appliances. In addition, the feds had tax credits for the purchase of hybrid vehicles.

Thanks for the question.


Would you recommend Kansas help fund Wind Farms for Lawrence and like communities to boost the production of industry as well as contribute to using cleaner fuels?


We'll post one more question after this.

Rep. Tom Sloan:

Ks. Twister - The state has several incentives in place to provide incentives for investors/utilities to construct and operate renewable energy generation units (wind being the most cost-effective currently).

The Kansas Corporation Commission's Energy Office has statewide maps that provide information about the average wind speeds and therefore generation potential.

Douglas County is not one of the better wind sites. Notwithstanding that answer, I believe that wind farms can be sited in the more advantagouse areas and the electricity carried to the load/urban centers.

To that end, I have successfully invited one of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Commissioners, a high ranking Dept. of Energy official, and regional/state utility regulators and operators to meeting next month to further discuss how Kansas develops its transmission and generation potential - especially from wind energy.


There is plenty of talk about wind energy and the Flint Hills. I understand the resistence undermining its' natural beauty -- so is it possible to erect wind generators along the states interstate highways right of way? How about setting solar panels along our sunny highways?

Rep. Tom Sloan:

Merrill - The KS Dept. of Transportation and KS Dept. of Wildlife & Parks both use solar panels for signs, etc.

There is little debate regarding the preservation of the intact tall grass prairie. There is significant debate about whether wind turbines should be prohibited in cultivated ground in counties that also have intact prairie. The issues are economic and private property rights.

For many farmers/ranchers, the prospect of receiving $3,000-$5,000 per year lease money per turbine is very attractive. It means income to let the next generation of family members remain on the farm/ranch and is not commodity price, weather, or fuel dependent. There also is the issue of whether the state or anyone should be permitted to prevent the farmer/rancher from permitting wind farms without compensating those landowners for the lost revenues.

The wind farm near Montezuma, KS (near Dodge City) is located on state hwy 54 and is a major tourist stop. Similar sites in IA, MN, and other states also attract tourists and their dollars.

It is possible to erect turbines along state and federal highways and tie them into the electric grid and tourist industry.


Tom I know you had some thoughts about Scott Rothschild's story about the depletion of the western Kansas Ogallala Aquifer - - care to share?

Rep. Tom Sloan:

Thank you. Scott did a good job of summarizing the issues in Western KS. However, he did not have space to fully report what steps have been taken to address the problems and what we are doing in Eastern KS to ensure long term water supplies.

The KS Legislature has enacted several laws that encourage the retirement of water rights. Scott was correct that not many rights have been retired yet, but that is because the funding was only provided during the 2006 legislative session.

The objective is to encourage irrigators to retire all or part of their water useage - as differentiated from their water right. Water right is how much water they may legally pump (e.g., 1,000 acre feet); water use is the measured amount of water actually pumped (e.g., 500 acre feet). The difference can reflect the inability to actually pump the full allocation because the aquifer is being depleted, or the decision to change crops (corn takes 3 times as much water as cotton).

The goal is to bring water consumption in line with sustainable pumping. Because towns depend on irrigators to purchase fuel, seeds, etc. and farm families depend on the crops produced, a majority of legislators have preferred incentives to reduce consumption as opposed to mandates. However, the Division of Water Resources in the KS Dept. of Agriculture has the legal authority to shut down irrigation units when minimum stream flows are not met or other crises arise.

In Eastern KS siltation of our drinking water lakes and reservoirs is a major problem. According to the KS Biological Survey faculty, even if no people lived in KS, our lakes would fill with dirt. This is because of the nature of KS soils. We obviously can impact the rate at which siltation ocurs.

The Legislature has created programs to address upstream problems (e.g., plant buffer strips to slow run-off from fields) and create holding ponds to collect run-off from impervious surfaces (e.g., parking lots).

This past year we funded a program that I proposed to address siltation in the drinking water lakes by dredging those lakes, putting in sediment traps, and engaging in other practices to protect and rehabilitate the lakes. I am working with state water agencies and the U.S. Corps of Engineers to develop similar programs for the large reservoirs like Clinton Lake.


That's all for now. Thanks, Tom, for joining us today!

Rep. Tom Sloan:

Thank you Joel and audience members. Please contact me whenever you have energy and water policy questions.

Tom Sloan
45th District Representative


Sigmund 11 years, 6 months ago

Funny how Sloan completely "missed" (read evaded) the point of my question, and for good reason. Growing crops requires water and water is increasingly being depleted. In essence we would use water for crops and then crops for ethanol.

Ethanol is NOT a sustainable alternative fuel because of its dependance upon water, despite the hype. You cant drink oil and more and more oil is being discovered. True oil is harder to get than the easier pickings of the past but it is still there and on US soil and coastal waters.

Which do you want water to be used for? 300 million people to feed and who need drinking water or to replace oil? Get real.

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