Editorial: Energy and ideology really shouldn’t mix

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

Kansas leaders spend a lot of energy on ideology. They ought to spend more energy on energy.

A couple of recent pieces of Statehouse news related to energy are worth noting. The first involves a dispute between the City of Lawrence and Kansas legislators. The Legislature has approved a bill that would prohibit cities and counties from doing anything to limit the use of natural gas or propane as a utility option.

Lawrence city commissioners don’t like the bill, in part, because they think it is in reaction to the city’s stated goal of powering the entire city with renewable energy by 2035. The city is correct in that assessment. State Sen. Mike Thompson said Lawrence’s opposition to the bill mainly was for “ideological reasons.” He’s largely correct also.

Lawrence does have an admirable ideology on renewable energy. America needs to make changes in how it produces and consumes energy, and renewable energy is a wonderful opportunity on many fronts.

But it would not be a wise use of Lawrence’s energy to fight over this latest bill. Rather, Lawrence should continue to work to make city-owned facilities as sustainable as possible and be a community champion for others to do the same with their properties.

It’s unclear that Lawrence ever would pass a law restricting the use of natural gas as a utility. This new bill will ensure that doesn’t happen. That is wise and needed. Utility companies are required to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure to deliver energy in Kansas. They deserve some certainty in return. An environment where cities and counties can pass laws rendering certain types of utilities largely obsolete would allow costly uncertainty to reign. There may be a time where we do move away from natural gas as a utility, but such a move needs to be done in a coordinated manner, probably at the national level, but certainly not city by city.

The second item involves wind turbines. Thompson has proposed statewide regulations limiting turbines to one per square mile and keeping them 1.5 miles from any home or public building.

Statewide plans for wind turbines aren’t a bad idea, but how and why Thompson is going about it are. His standards seem arbitrary, and he has been clear that the driving force behind his bill is to protect property owners who don’t want a wind turbine next to their property. That’s a classic zoning issue that should be handled by locally elected officials. Those ideas of local control and property rights are supposed to be some that — as a conservative — he champions.

A statewide plan for wind turbines, though, makes sense from the perspective that this is a very capital-intensive business, but one that could pay great dividends to Kansas as the industry grows. Kansas is one of the few states that doesn’t have a statewide energy plan.

If Kansas wants to attract billions of new dollars to the state’s economy, it really should create an energy plan. But such a plan, if it highlighted a shift to renewable energy, probably would be seen as a betrayal of ideology by certain segments of the GOP that hate anything related to climate change. It doesn’t have to be that way. The GOP could focus on the new money renewable energy would bring to this state, while the Democrats could focus on the good it is doing for the environment. Both sides could have something to be happy about, and we would be in a better place than we are today.

Whether that will ever happen is unclear. The fence lines of ideology can be very solid — except when it is convenient for them not to be. Here’s one last noteworthy item, and it has nothing to do with energy. Did you notice the debate over the idea for a “Don’t Tread on Me” license plate in Kansas? Most of the debate was about whether the imagery was too related slavery in our past. Let’s save that debate for another day.

Instead, did anyone else notice that the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag is supposed to represent limited government and gun rights? Limited government? So, we have a nonprofit organization — the Kansas Rifle Association — that wants to promote the idea of limited government by getting government to produce and then sell a license plate that the nonprofit gets proceeds from?

We might need an ideology conservation plan in this state even more than we need an energy conservation plan.

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