Energy for Kansas

I have received many communications regarding the proposed energy bill and my vote on SB 327’s Conference Committee Report. The decision to support the measure was not taken lightly.

Last fall, I participated in a NCSL-sponsored Advanced Coal Technologies Energy Institute. When I returned to Lawrence I contacted Secretary Bremby and shared my copy of the materials with him and the Department. In addition, I offered to bring key speakers to Kansas to meet privately with him to discuss what is technologically feasible in the realm of carbon capture, what costs are associated with such technologies, and what is on the horizon. Prior to making that offer, I confirmed that the speakers would be willing to hold such discussions. I also secured commitments from Sunflower’s senior management that they would meet with the Secretary to discuss mitigation and capture opportunities. In both instances, I offered to serve as the facilitator to keep parties on track or to simply arrange for the meetings and excuse myself from the discussions – whichever would be more beneficial. Neither offer was accepted.

During the hearings on HB 2711, I carefully tracked factual arguments made by proponents and opponents. As is often the case, both sides have facts to support their positions and it is the responsibility of the Legislator to ascertain which facts and policy options, on whole, will best benefit the people of Kansas.

I accept that green house gases contribute to global warming and health problems. I also accept that KDHE’s professional staff, after evaluating Sunflower’s application and all the public comments in opposition, concluded that the Department should approve the application. I recognize that the Secretary determined that 11 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions were unacceptable, but I also recognize that neither EPA nor Congress has established carbon dioxide emission limits (as they have for SOx, NOx, and mercury) and that the Secretary has not proposed limits for consideration by the Legislature or to pursue the Rules and Regulation process and the scrutiny of interested parties. Simply ruling that 11 million tons, ignoring that some capture will occur through the bio-process promoted by KSU, is too high does not constitute establishing a standard. Such an action also does not take into account unacceptably high emission levels from existing Kansas generation units, nor the negligible impact approval or denial of the permit will have on global health and environmental protection.

During Committee deliberations, I succeeded in including amendments that protected many of the Department’s powers to address air quality issues, established a science-based policy advisory group, increased the payments for solar net metering, strengthened the renewable portfolio standard, and required that existing and prospective coal- and natural gas-fired electric generation units engage in carbon capture and/or mitigation.

When SB 327 was debated on the floor, leadership succeeded in removing several of the key amendments approved by the Committee and I voted “No” on final action.

My concerns remained that neither the bill nor the Administration was addressing the need for science-based energy planning, that carbon dioxide emission standards were neither in existence nor proposed, that high voltage electric transmission lines necessary and sufficient to move large amounts of wind power are dependent on a fossil-fuel or nuclear baseload plant, and that the Department must still be able to address imminent threats to public health.

While not a member of the Conference Committee on SB 327, I endeavored to coalesce the concerns of the Traditional Republican Caucus members and bring them to the Conferees and House Leadership. The resulting Conference Committee Agreement restored a science and technology-based advisory group; improved the net metering and RPS sections; provided increased incentives for investments in energy conservation by utilities and Kansans.

The requirement that existing generation units engage in mitigation was not included, but the Administration has also not advocated that action.

The voluntary agreement that the Governor negotiated by which the state’s electric utilities would develop wind energy has been adhered to by Sunflower, Empire District, and Midwest Energy; and deferred or effectively rejected by Westar and KCPL. Sunflower has 13 percent and Midwest Energy 16 percent of its energy nameplate capacity produced by wind.

My work with the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative, National Conference of State Legislatures, Council of State Government, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Southwest Power Pool, the Kansas Electric Transmission Summits I-V, and other organizations has provided me with the knowledge and commitment to address our state’s energy future. One fact that presentations at all of the above organizations’ meetings have stressed is that energy generation and transmission needs must be addressed on a regional basis.

My vote for the Conference Committee Report on SB 327 reflected a personal code of honor that requires me to support legislation in which I have succeeded in placing significant amendments. In the case of SB 327, the Conference Committee’s actions made the bill “more green” than what the House Committee of the Whole had passed. I would like more mitigation and I also want the electric transmission lines necessary to develop our wind generation potential to be constructed.

I want to address existing coal- and natural gas-fired electric generation unit pollution levels. The recently announced agreement between KDHE and Westar will not result in the Jeffrey Energy Center being as “clean” as the existing Holcomb plant, and does not address the state’s largest polluter, on a MWh basis, the Lawrence Energy Center.

I remain committed to passing the green possible bill, but after years of trying it is clear that the Legislature will not pass significant green measures independent of the Holcomb plant approval. I remain troubled that the Secretary overruled his Department’s professional staff and that no carbon dioxide emission standards have been proposed. I also remain troubled that my efforts to identify common ground between the Administration and energy proponents are ignored.

For example, in addition to my efforts to facilitate resolution of the conflict last fall, I introduced HB 2765 (mandating that all electric utilities coordinate their renewable energy, baseload, intermediate, and peaking needs) in response to your statements that the Governor can support one coal-fired generation plant that serves Kansans. My major opposition on the Committee came from Democrats. I am not naive enough to believe that HB 2765 was the perfect solution, but I hoped that it would stimulate the Administration, in partnership with legislators and utility executives, to refine the bill or develop a more viable option. Simply stating that the Governor supports Sunflower constructing one generation unit does not constitute a viable option if the financing, contractual obligations, transmission, and other related issues are ignored.

I would not suffer the public abuse nor political consequences of my vote if I did not believe that the long term “green” benefits, regional energy benefits, development of Kansas’ wind resources, and the greater long term benefits to our state and her people were accomplished by passing legislation. I remain committed to working with the Administration and other Legislators on responsible energy policies. My vote on an override of a veto will depend on whether I believe a better solution will be available. So far, I see no indication that the Legislature or Administration will move past rhetoric, and that saddens me greatly.

Tom Sloan
45th District