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Legislature considering delays in renewable energy standards

February 5, 2013

— Topeka — The debate about climate change continues, and the discussion has now made its way to the Kansas Legislature.

The Senate Standing Committee for Utilities is proposing to delay or modify the mandates established by the Renewable Energy Standards Act that would relieve utilities’ requirements to use more renewable fuels.

Proponents and opponents of the standards debated their future at a Utilities committee hearing on Tuesday, a followup to a joint House-Senate hearing on the issue last Thursday.

The act, which was passed in 2009, required major utilities companies to have the capacity to generate 10 percent of their energy through a renewable source by 2011. It also calls for the companies to have the capacity to generate 15 percent of their energy through a renewable source by 2016 and 20 percent by 2020.

The Senate Standing Committee for Utilities introduced a bill last week that would extend the 15 percent mandate from 2016 to 2018, and the 20 percent mandate from 2020 to 2024. It would also allow the KCC to delay the 15 and 20 percent mandates if “good cause” is shown. “Good cause” includes increased costs to customers.

“Our renewable standards are a failure,” said Rep. Charlotte O’Hara, R-Overland Park. “They resulted in higher energy costs, ... and are not the answer to our energy independence. It’s time to recognize this failure, repeal the RPS and be free from these crippling energy mandates.”

The enactment of the Kansas Renewable Standards Act in 2009 permitted the construction of an 895-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Holcomb, through an agreement reached between former Gov. Mark Parkinson’s administration and Sunflower Electric Power Corp. But in January 2012, a court ruled that the power plant could not be built until after an environmental review.

“The power plant expansion has not occurred and is not expected to occur in the future because of lawsuits and restrictions,” said Energy and Environmental Policy Chairman Rep. Dennis Hedke. “There’s still folks not at all happy that the plant has not been allowed to move forward.”

Hedke would like to see further changes in the renewable energy standards. While he does not think a repeal of the Kansas Renewable Energy Act would happen, he said that there is a chance it may be modified.

“Even if you just took the first part of it, the 2015 standards, and live with them, and removed the 20 percent mandate, then you would still have a significant modification,” he said. “Modifications of the mandates is a high probability in the Senate and the House.”

According to a survey conducted by the University of Illinois in 2009, the prevailing perspective of scientists is that climate change is happening, and that it is human-induced. The 3,146 scientists who participated in the survey were located through the American Geological Institute’s Directory of Geoscience Departments. When asked if human activity has been a significant factor in changing the mean global temperatures, 82 percent said yes.

Hedke, a consulting geophysicist at Hedke-Saenger Geoscience Ltd., which has clients in the oil and energy industry, disagrees with some of the scientists’ views on what’s happening to the climate. He arranged for the Joint Committee on Energy and Environmental Policy to hear arguments last week that contradict some of these common beliefs about climate change, in particular about the effects of rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels.

“The driving force for moving in the direction of producing the most renewable energy as possible has all been wound up or related to the suggestion that CO2 is bad,” Hedke said. “There is a lot of data and evidence out there that clearly contradicts that. Most people are not aware of that, some people may be somewhat aware of it, some may have seen that data and don’t want to believe in it. In the scientific community, which I am a part of, credible data like that has been largely ignored or set to the sidelines. I wanted to make sure our committee members got a chance to see the real data.”

Two of the speakers invited to last week’s hearing argued that CO2 does not have a negative effect on the climate, and that rising levels of it are beneficial for plant and human life.

“There is no experimental data that exists that supports the view that the Earth’s climate is changing in any dangerous way,” said Willie Soon, an astrophysicist and geoscientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who is known as a climate change skeptic. According to a case study conducted by environmental activism group Greenpeace, Spoon has “received substantial funding from the fossil fuel industry for most of his scientific career, and heavy corporate funding in the last decade.”

John Christy, a climatologist at Alabama State University who is also a climate change skeptic, suggested to the committee that creating legislation to invest in renewable energy would be ineffective and expensive.

“If you choose to make regulations about carbon dioxide, that’s OK. You as a state can do that; you have a right to do it,” Christy said. “But it’s not going to do anything about the climate. And it’s going to cost, there’s no doubt about that.”

However, Johannes Feddema, a climate scientist and professor at Kansas University, had a different perspective in his testimony. He said that decreases in emissions and an investment in renewable energy on the local level would add up to help globally.

“With all of our engineers here in Wichita, some of them out of work, we should be able to come up with better ways of getting energy without putting out all these emissions,” he said. “We are one of the windiest states in the country; we should be the leading experts in wind energy technology in the world. But we are not.”

Representatives from the Wind Coalition, Next Era Energy Resources, Kansans for Clean Energy, Vestas Wind Systems and Infinity Wind Power provided testimony against Senate Bill 82 at Tuesday’s Utilities hearing. These groups said were concerned that loosening the renewable standards would decrease economic activity stimulated by the opportunities for wind energy in the state.

“Modifying the RPS would absolutely send a strong negative signal that would likely cripple the emerging export market,” said Matt Riley, CEO at Infinity Wind Power. “To my knowledge, not one of the 30 other states with an RPS has negatively modified or repealed that important policy. Kansas would be the first to do so, and it would send a shockwave through our industry, saying, ‘Thank you very much for the $3 billion of investment last year, but you’re not welcome here anymore.’”

The Energy and Environmental Policy Committee will hear from two more scientists on Tuesday, Feb. 12.

Originally published at: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2013/feb/05/legislature-considering-delays-renewable-energy-st/