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LJWorld Green

Kansas lags in energy conservation, protecting environment

State falls behind in process known as net metering

Employees from Blue Sky Wind, Solar & Home, from left, Sarah Brainerd, Jesse Gray, Asa Collier and Ty Whitaker install three solar panels on the home of Bill and Lyn Lakin in Leavenworth County.  The Lawrence company offers on- and off-grid energy systems, at-source hot water heaters, solar hot water heaters, and wind generators, as well as hydroturbines.  Collier, the owner of the company, has seen a rise in public interest as on the grid energy becomes more and more expensive.  Collier and his crew installed the solar panel system on Thursday, Sept. 25, 2008.

Employees from Blue Sky Wind, Solar & Home, from left, Sarah Brainerd, Jesse Gray, Asa Collier and Ty Whitaker install three solar panels on the home of Bill and Lyn Lakin in Leavenworth County. The Lawrence company offers on- and off-grid energy systems, at-source hot water heaters, solar hot water heaters, and wind generators, as well as hydroturbines. Collier, the owner of the company, has seen a rise in public interest as on the grid energy becomes more and more expensive. Collier and his crew installed the solar panel system on Thursday, Sept. 25, 2008.

September 25, 2008

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This is the year for talk about which states are red and which ones are blue.

But in the midst of an energy crisis and rising concerns over carbon emissions, some are focused on a different color: green.

And in the past year, Kansas has been shaded as a murky brown.

In 2007, Forbes magazine ranked Kansas No. 31 when it comes to protecting the environment.

Environment America, in a report on the nation's clean energy policies, identified Kansas as one of 16 states where "efforts lag significantly behind those in ... the rest of the country."

In a state scorecard released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Kansas was No. 34, receiving poor marks for how much utilities spend on conservation, tax incentives, appliance standards and transportation policies.

One area where Kansas falls behind others, alternative energy advocates say, is the lack of compensation - known as net metering - that homeowners receive for the alternative energy they produce and do not use. That extra energy gets sent back into the electric grid.

"For Kansas, the matter now is not forward thinking; we are just trying to get into the 20th century," said Aron Cromwell, vice president and CEO of the Lawrence-based Cromwell Environmental.

Turning on the switch

According to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Kansas is one of a half dozen states that don't have a net metering law.

The way most net metering laws work is that when customers who generate their own power, such as solar, generate more power than they actually use, they can in essence run their meter backward. But often the return is just less than half the true cost of the electricity, or roughly about 3 cents per kilowatt hour compared with a retail rate of about 7 cents.

Advocates for a net metering law would like the alternative energy producers to be paid the retail rate or something closer to that 7 cent marker.

"We have nothing in the state of Kansas to help us out," said Cromwell, who has installed photovoltaic and solar hot water panels in the region.

Net metering would encourage homeowners and particularly businesses to build larger solar power systems, he said.

Jim Ploger, manager of climate and energy programs for the Kansas Corporation Commission, said not having net metering discourages small wind and solar companies from selling their products here. Some vendors even ignore Kansas.

"The pay-out is so far out in the future, it's not economically viable," Ploger said.

More importantly, Ploger said, the very fact that Kansas doesn't have a net metering law can be a detractor for big-scale renewable energy businesses (like wind farms and turbine manufacturers) looking to locate to the state.

"We're not practicing what we preach. Net metering has no factor in commercial wind farms, but it is part of an image," he said.

Kansas and solar energy are a nice fit. The state has decent potential for capturing the sun's rays (not as strong as Arizona, but not as weak as New Hampshire). And, solar energy is often at its best when electric companies need it the most - on those 100-degree-plus days in August when air-conditioners are cranking.

Installing solar panels would help electric companies on those peak days.

"A few kilowatts here and few kilowatts there and pretty soon it starts to add up," Ploger said.

A good idea?

Not everyone believes that net metering is such a good idea or that it's fair. Among them is Dick Rohlfs, Westar Energy's director of retail rates.

Rohlfs agrees that electric companies should pay small alternative energy producers more than just the fuel costs. The reimbursement should also cover the savings from incremental operation and maintenance costs and the energy that is lost to get the electricity from the plant into the system.

But the retail price isn't a fair one either, he said.

Of Westar's 670,000 customers, only 50 to 60 of them produce energy that can be sent back into the electric grid. And, only around five produce more energy than what they take from Westar in a given month.

When the wind stops blowing and the sun no longer shines, those customers rely on Westar for backup energy. And they expect the company to have generation equipment and transmission lines to provide them with electricity, he said.

But, if those alternative energy producers were reimbursed at retail rates, that capacity is a cost they wouldn't be paying, Rohlfs said.

"We are there to serve them whenever they demand energy," Rohlfs said.

And David Springe, consumer counsel for the Citizens' Utility Ratepayer Board, is afraid it's a cost that will get passed along to everyone else who pays the electric bills. As the appointed representative for utility consumers, Springe sees net metering as a way to subsidize electricity for those who have the thousands of dollars to install solar panels.

Those who couldn't afford them would be on the losing end, Springe said.

If there are going to be subsidies, Springe said he would prefer they go toward energy conservation efforts for low-income housing.

State Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, said there needs to be a middle ground.

"Yes we need to provide incentives to assist in meeting the total energy need. But we also need to recognize that a utility has the responsibility to be a provider of last resort. And they have costs associated with that responsibility," Sloan said.

From proposal to law

At the last legislative session, a net metering law for solar energy was proposed as part of a packaged energy deal. Overshadowed by the political fireworks from the proposed coal-fired power plant in Holcomb, it received little attention.

It wasn't the first time the matter was before state lawmakers. And Sloan suspects it will come back.

Cromwell is among those who would like the issue to return to the Capitol.

Cromwell testified before the Missouri Legislature, which passed a net metering law last year. He predicts that it will take more lobbying and funding before something similar is enacted in Kansas.

"It's just the beginning. It's just a small step," Cromwell said. "But it's sad if we fall behind Missouri in our level of progressiveness."

Comments

jumpin_catfish 6 years, 2 months ago

Wow banned wild monkey sex while evolving. Only in Kansas and only on LJW.

Bill Griffith 6 years, 2 months ago

OnlyLawrenceRepublican-are you disagreeing that you would not find these rulings in PUC cases in other states? I understand your opinion but the majority of legislative or administrative bodies involved in this matter take the opposite side. I am assuming you are just leaving this as your opinion unless you come back and state otherwise.

Bill Griffith 6 years, 2 months ago

The Westar representative is correct in theory but not in practicality. As has been proven in docket cases in other state PUCs, net metering is a subsidy on paper-however in practice the amount of juice that is sent back to the large power companies is so minute to them that there is no financial set back to other customers. This ruling has been repeated over and over again in other states and jurisdictions. KCPL is re-filing a net metering tariff with the KCC and hopes to get approval of it some time next year. The problem is a statute (Senate substitute for HB 2145) authored by Representative Sloan which offers some challenges to net metering because of its compromise on this issue as far as compensation. Hopefully, the KCC can work around this problem and allow KCPL to do net metering in Kansas as they are now doing in Missouri. Westar, is of course, lagging behind-because it is all about Westar and its interests and everyone else is out of luck...at least that is their corporate philosophy.

OnlyLawrenceRepublican 6 years, 2 months ago

I have not researched state proceedings, other than in Kansas - my opinion is that a net metering rate must account for capacity that a retail user will use. Guide me to some PUC decisions and I'll definitely take a look.

ASBESTOS 6 years, 2 months ago

I checked this out in 1992. There are three problems undermining the consumer based generation (which I fuly support as a GOP Principal of rugged individualism and self sufficiency and responsibility for one's footprint on this rock and for your own power generation).1. HOAs. They have too much power to stymie anyone that wants to put up solar panels and whirley gigs to generate electricity.2. The KCC which is is the tank for the Power companies, and are politically aligned3. IF you have an electricity line coming to you, the "line and wires" powere distribution company should get to charge a carrier rate similar to what they charge the "big boys" after all wire is wire, and electrons do not care if they come from a Coal powerplant, or a PV cell, or a whirly gig.The GOP ought to start supporting people that want to be "self sufficient" and Producers" in stead of only being "consumers"The current dynamics no longer apply and the train is leaving the station. PV cells are cheaper, Wind turbines are cheaper, and power and electricity rates are climbing.Ther are only 2 answers; 1.) Like the "Bailout" that supports and promotes dependency from the consumer to a big power plant, and 2.) let people generate their own power and pay a power distribution surcharge, because it offsets generation, there is no reason to send the profit to a power plant that did not generate the power.A persons property consistent with conservative principals is their kingdom, and if they can gernerate energy or minerals or oil, they should be allowed to do it, and profit from it. We should not limit prodiuction and profit only to the large conglomerants.Look at just how well that Democratic and Republican old financial model worked.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 2 months ago

What exactly is the City of Lawrence doing? How many ways is city hall reducing the city's carbon footprint? How many city official vehicles are hybrid?What green codes and ordinances have been mandated?

OnlyLawrenceRepublican 6 years, 2 months ago

Belexus73 - I was reading some of your previous posts. We have to know each other.

jumpin_catfish 6 years, 2 months ago

50% of global warming is caused by resident loons and other 50% is caused by cow farts.

OnlyLawrenceRepublican 6 years, 2 months ago

"The Westar representative is correct in theory but not in practicality. As has been proven in docket cases in other state PUCs, net metering is a subsidy on paper-however in practice the amount of juice that is sent back to the large power companies is so minute to them that there is no financial set back to other customers."I completely disagree. This may be true regarding energy (although I'm not sure that it is), but it is certainly not true regarding capacity. Those components cannot be separated in a retail rate. A self-generator should be paid for kWh provided to the grid, but should not be free from capacity reservations (i.e. kW) on its behalf.

FreshAirFanatic 6 years, 2 months ago

Why do we all keep waiting for utility companies, energy production companies and the government to help ease our pain? Stop complaining and take action yourself. There are energy management products on the market that "normal" homeowners without $60k to invest in solar can afford. Recycle your home's electricity and stick it to Westar and Exxon-Mobile. http://green.wikia.com/wiki/PowerwoRx-e3

LiberalDude 6 years, 2 months ago

I wish that the LJW would quit putting all those newspaper inserts in plastic bags on everyone's door handles. This is such a waste. I bet 99% of those end up in the garbage the night they are delivered.Come on LJW, do your part.

gphawk89 6 years, 2 months ago

Geez, give somebody a computer and an internet connection and see how many hours of their lives they can waste in one day...

commuter 6 years, 2 months ago

Where is Merrill and his infamous cut and pastes? Oh I forgot, Sebelius is too busy helping Obama instead of running our state.

OnlyLawrenceRepublican 6 years, 2 months ago

Ok, I just ran a brief search and I still think I'm right. Many states allow a demand charge and only pay the avoided cost of energy (i.e. kWh). Others provide a rate more on par with the wholesale cost (i.e. energy and not planned capacity).All I am saying is that you have to construct the rate in a way that accounts for capacity and pays for energy.

tunahelper 6 years, 2 months ago

Firearms are protected by the 2nd Amendment ss. you are just showing your ignorance and stupidity, like most libtards.

Bill Griffith 6 years, 2 months ago

OLR, I understand your point on accounting for capacity and paying for energy. What utilities usually state in objecting to net metering is the cost of the infrastructure for the privilege of obtaining electricity from them. What the governing bodies that have overrruled them have staked out is this position: "Yes, there is infrastructure that is being used by a residential/business generator of renewable energy and there is a theoretical subsidy ocurring. However, the encouragement of renewable energy is a public benefit and this is a way of encouraging its growth." As far as knowing me, well.....possibly, although I don't live in the Lawrence area but I do accept free rides to eat at Zen Zero once in a blue moon and I do occasionally check on how my money is doing over at KU with regards to progeny.

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