Brownback: Congress shouldn’t stand in private sector’s way on alternative energy

Sen. Sam Brownback, center, gets a guided tour of the Bowersock Mills and Power Co. Brownback touted renewable energy sources like hydroelectricity during a stop in Lawrence on Tuesday. Owner-operators Stephen Hill, left, and Sarah Hill-Nelson answered Brownback’s questions.

U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback said Tuesday that he doesn’t want Congress to make it tougher on the private sector to supply alternative sources of energy like hydroelectric power from a dam on the Kansas River.

Brownback, R-Kan., toured the Bowersock Mills and Power Co. in Lawrence, which sells renewable energy credits to businesses to help offset the amount of carbon emissions they produce.

“Just overall in the legislation, I think they are benefiting from a pretty lucrative and active renewable energy credit market now,” Brownback said.

Stephen Hill, whose family owns and operates the 2.35-megawatt hydroelectric plant on the south side of the river, said the company has faced plenty of federal and state regulatory hurdles to an expansion plan that would triple its production.

“I think it’s important for those who are trying to encourage renewable energy to appreciate all of the pitfalls and the hurdles that you have to overcome in order to get something done,” Hill said.

Senator Sam Brownback, right, was in Lawrence on Tuesday getting a first-hand look at renewable energy sources. Stephen Hill, president of Bowersock Mills and Power Co., and Sarah Hill-Nelson showed Brownback the facility.

It was the second time in a week that Brownback was in Lawrence to discuss the topic of renewable energy. Last week, he appeared with T. Boone Pickens during a forum at the Dole Institute of Politics.

Congress is currently debating a measure that would require states to meet a “renewable energy standard.” That means a certain percentage of a state’s energy must be developed from renewable sources, like hydroelectric power, wind or solar.

“I want us to be able to clean up our energy over a period of time without substantially raising electric rates,” Brownback said.

That would require making changes to the nation’s energy sector over time and in ways that make economic sense, he said.

Brownback, who is expected to seek the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2010, also said Tuesday that he hoped construction of two coal-fired, 700-megawatt plants near Holcomb could move forward. On Monday, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed legislation that would authorize the plants, citing environmental concerns.

Brownback said the project would allow for construction of power lines to the south and into Colorado — which also could transport the state’s wind energy production.

The Lawrence Environmental Education Project is organizing a tour of Bowersock Mills and Power Co. at 11 a.m. April 25 at the plant, which is on the south side of the Kansas River at the Massachusetts Street bridge.

Pre-registration is required for the free event. To register, send an email to LEEPintoaction@gmail.com.