Archive for Monday, December 16, 2013

Renewable energy facing a headwind

December 16, 2013


— In 2009, supporters of a bill to require an increase in the use of renewable energy said the proposal would make Kansas the "Saudi Arabia" of wind energy.

Four years later, the political wind is blowing toward repealing or changing the law.

Since 2009, wind energy capacity in Kansas has jumped from about 1,000 megawatts to approximately 2,700 megawatts in 2013, with other projects in the planning stages, according to state figures.

But conservative legislators, many affiliated with a national group that opposes mandated goals for renewable energy, plan to renew efforts from the 2013 legislative session to repeal the Kansas Renewable Portfolio Standard.

The mandate required major utility companies to have the capacity to generate 10 percent of their energy through a renewable source by 2011. It also called for the companies to generate 15 percent of their energy through a renewable source by 2016 and 20 percent by 2020.

State Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, said the RPS has been a success, boosting the development of wind farms, wind industry businesses and transmission lines by establishing a market for wind energy. Sloan, chairman of the House Vision 2020 Committee, serves on several national energy panels.

"The potential is good for further development of our state's wind and solar resources as those transmission lines come on-line," he said. Repeal of the RPS "would send a signal to investors that Kansas is not a good place to invest in meeting the nation's need and desire for renewable energy," he said.

Renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, cut the carbon dioxide emissions from power plants that produce the greenhouse gases that most scientists say causes climate change.

Rabbi Moti Rieber, director of Interfaith Power and Light and rabbi at the Lawrence Community Jewish Congregation, said, "There is a moral imperative to address global climate change." Rieber's group includes religious leaders who push for energy conservation, efficiency and renewable energy.

ALEC opposition to RPS

One group opposed to the RPS is the American Legislative Exchange Council, which brings corporations and legislators together to write model legislation that is then debated in statehouses across the nation.

ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force has recommended that states pass the Electricity Freedom Act, which repeals requirements that utilities have renewable energy sources. The Act says government mandates to produce renewable energy increase costs to taxpayers while benefitting politically favored industries.

Rep. Dennis Hedke, R-Wichita, and chairman of the House Energy and Environment Committee, held hearings last session on rolling back the RPS. He is also a member of the ALEC task force. Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, and House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, both active leaders in ALEC, have also spoken out against the RPS.

Hedke, a contract geophysicist in the oil and gas industry, says he does not believe in climate change.

The requirement to build wind energy capacity has increased electric bills, he said. "The people on fixed incomes, I guarantee you they feel it," he said.

Hedke also said the giant wind turbines kill birds, including eagles, and that the energy necessary to build wind turbines and solar panels offsets the reduction in carbon emissions.

"Believing you are going to reduce the carbon imprint by using solar or wind is a losing argument," he said. "There is no net reductions in emissions," he said.

Rieber said studies cited by Hedke have all been refuted.

"He is so convinced that there is no such thing as climate change, he wants to prevent, by legislation, any action to address it," Rieber said.

RPS was part of deal for coal-burning plant

But the Kansas Legislature's embrace of the RPS wasn't based on a green vision of the world.

Instead it was part of a controversial deal brokered by then-Gov. Mark Parkinson.

In return for passage of the RPS, Parkinson would help clear the way for Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to build an 895-megawatt, coal-fired plant in western Kansas.

Sunflower got its permit from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, but that plant has not been built, and its future is in doubt.

In October, the Kansas Supreme Court overturned the project's permit, ruling that KDHE failed to apply federal regulations on pollution emissions that had become effective several months before the permit had been issued. In a separate lawsuit, a federal judge ruled that the plant couldn't be built without a thorough environmental review.

Hedke acknowledged that some legislators' anger over EPA's rules and court actions blocking the Sunflower project is part of the move to repeal RPS.

But Sloan said legislators need to maintain a long-term view on energy policy.

"Dependence on one or two forms of generation is shortsighted," he said.

In 2009, Westar Energy, the state's largest electric utility, produced 300 megawatts of wind energy, about 6 percent of its peak load.

Since then, Westar has increased that to approximately 660 megawatts and that will go to 860 megawatts when a wind farm is completed in Oklahoma in the next two years.

That would put Westar over the 15 percent goal in 2016. In addition, Kansas' other major electric utilities, including Kansas City Power & Light, Sunflower Electric Power Corp., Kansas Electric Power Cooperative, Empire District Co. and Midwest Energy are on track to meet their goals, according to a 2013 Kansas Corporation Commission report.

And wind energy faces another political battle. In addition to the fight over renewable energy in the Statehouse, the federal wind production tax credit is set to expire at the end of the year, although any project that has broken ground by the end of 2013 would remain eligible for the break.


Jeffery Green 4 years, 6 months ago

The evidence for co2 causing the warming is very clear. There are a variety of evidence lines that show us, yes co2 is the problem. Coal is the worst offender of all.

Summing Up

Like a detective story, first you need a victim, in this case the planet Earth: more energy is remaining in the atmosphere.

Then you need a method, and ask how the energy could be made to remain. For that, you need a provable mechanism by which energy can be trapped in the atmosphere, and greenhouse gases provide that mechanism.

Next, you need a ‘motive’. Why has this happened? Because CO2 has increased by nearly 50% in the last 150 years and the increase is from burning fossil fuels.

And finally, the smoking gun, the evidence that proves ‘whodunit’: energy being trapped in the atmosphere corresponds exactly to the wavelengths of energy captured by CO2.

The last point is what places CO2 at the scene of the crime. The investigation by science builds up empirical evidence that proves, step by step, that man-made carbon dioxide is causing the Earth to warm up.

Chris Golledge 4 years, 6 months ago

Good comment Jeffery.

I'll add that climate change is something that hits us here at home. For instance, amongst other studies, there was one out of KSU that showed that, while there have been gains in productivity because of highly yielding cultivars, every degree of warming reduces wheat yields by 21%. This is primarily a result of more very hot days during a critical growing stage of the plant.

If you look an the yields per acre for Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska, you will see this same pattern played out, despite the fact that precipitation varies more east-west than it does north-south. As the Kansas climate becomes more like Texas, our agricultural productivity will drop.

Windmills are part of a solution to reduce the undermining of our economy. Personally, I'd rather see a simple, market-based solution driving their development than more regulations, but for now, the RPS is what we have.

Regarding ALEC's opposition, ALEC represents the current set of fossil fuel energy producers. It would be surprising if they were not against anything that encourages any other source of energy.

Larry Sturm 4 years, 6 months ago

Kansas governor and congress is very regressive for Kansas. BROWNBACK IS BAD FOR KANSAS .

Bob Zimmerman 4 years, 6 months ago

Hey Kansas:

The de-evolution continues. Keep moving backwards while other states invest in wind energy, STEM education, natural resources, and highways.

Check out this headline in today's Des Moines Register: Siemens says MidAmerican Energy’s in Des Moines request for 448 wind turbines is the world’s largest order for onshore wind turbines.

But the lower income taxes will surely attract meat packing and plastic molding jobs from Chinese companies that want cheap labor and little environmental regs.

Good luck.

Clark Coan 4 years, 6 months ago

Brownback supports development of wind power in the Sunflower State. He will work to kill any bill that gets traction and if does end up on his desk, there's a good chance he'll veto it.

Ken Hunt 4 years, 6 months ago

Follow the money. Check donation records to see who/group donated how much $. Decentralized power is a threat to the old power scheme in the country. The issue of renewable power has been reworked into a platform against wind/solar to the benefit of the current delivery mode which does not benefit the users of the power or who creates it.

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