The Energy Bill came to the Senate floor this week in the form of a conference committee report that ultimately passed the House on a vote of 75 - 47; 84 House votes will be required to override an expected governor's veto. The Senate passed the measure 31 - 7, a comfortable margin over the 27 Senate votes needed to override a veto. The bill now goes to the Governor who has 10 days to veto it.
The bill creates a renewable resources requirement for electric utilities to encourage greater development and use of wind, solar and other environmentally friendly energy sources, and requires certain electric generation facilities to begin CO2 capture or reduction technologies. A key provision requires the Secretary of the Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) to grant the construction permit of the Holcomb Sunflower Energy Plant unless the permit is found to violate current law. It would allow the KDHE Secretary to hold future permit applications to stricter standards than those established by the federal government if those stricter standards have been approved by the legislature. Neither the federal government nor the state of Kansas currently has a standard set on CO2 emissions.
Whether or not you approve of a new coal-fired plant anywhere in Kansas, it is important to remember the proposed plant expansion at Holcomb would operate under the most restrictive air quality permit of any plant in the country; it would be far more efficient than existing plants, allowing older, dirtier coal plants to be taken offline; the new plant would encourage greater investment in transmission lines which are critical to the development and expansion of wind energy, and it would keep the $3.6 billion dollar project with its jobs and tax benefits here in the state.
Just out of curiosity, I asked Westar officials what would happen to the cost of electricity if we converted the coal-fired facility near Lawrence back to natural gas. Their response was that electric bills would increase dramatically - 4 x higher - because natural gas is much more expensive than coal (i.e. if an average bill was $100/mo with the coal-fired plant, it could increase to $400/mo if the switch was made to natural gas). Natural gas also emits CO2. Certainly wind, solar, nuclear, bio-fuels and natural gas will all play key roles in our energy future. But for baseload energy at a cost virtually all can afford, we would be shirking our responsibilities if we ignored the use of coal.
It is interesting to note that other states have found coal-based resources appropriate for meeting their base-load energy requirements. Currently, 33 coal-based units are under construction across the country, including eight plants in four states surrounding Kansas: 3 in Colorado, 2 in Nebraska, 2 in Missouri, and 1 in Arkansas. Construction in other Midwestern states include: 2 in Iowa, 4 in Illinois and 6 in Texas.
The bill also establishes energy efficiency standards for state buildings, enacts the Net Metering and Easy Connection Act, provides tax incentives for energy efficiency improvements in residential rental properties, and establishes the Kansas Electric Generation Science and Technology Commission.
Finally, the Senate came out forcefully in support of Boeing upon hearing the news that the U.S. Air Force had awarded to French manufacturer Airbus a $40 billion contract to build the next generation of air refueling tankers. Boeing has built tankers for the Air Force for more than 50 years. We unanimously passed a strong resolution calling upon the President and Congress to halt the process and reconsider the decision.
If you are interested in further information on these or any other issue, please do not hesitate to contact me: 785.296.7372 or by email at Pine@senate.state.ks.us