Norquist pitch on Kansas renewable energy mandate rejected

Source: By Tim Carpenter, THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL • Posted: Wednesday, March 20, 2013

House, Senate respond by sidetracking separate bills

Anti-tax conservative Grover Norquist attempted to convince Kansas legislators Thursday to support a bill to weaken a state law requiring utilities to draw 20 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Subsequent votes by the House and Senate suggest lawmakers, at this time, weren’t impressed.

Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said the Legislature ought to abandon the “costly renewable energy mandate so as to mitigate its negative impact on the economy.”

However, the Senate responded by voting 17-23 to defeat Senate Bill 82 that would have postponed the deadline for complying with the Kansas renewable portfolio standard. Instead of Kansas utilities reaching 15 percent of power from wind, solar or other alternative source in 2016, the bill would have moved the date to 2018. The measure also pushed the 20 percent mandate to 2024 from 2020.

“We’re at 10 percent, and I think it’s a good time to step back and take a look at this,” said Sen. Rob Olson, an Olathe Republican opposed to the renewable energy standard.

The House answered by voting 63-59 to send House Bill 2241 back to a committee for additional deliberation. This measure would amend the state’s portfolio standard to declare 15 percent must be met by 2018, but the 20 percent target would be dropped.

House Republicans and Democrats supportive of the motion said previous House committee work on the bill was flawed, while other representatives questioned the goal of rewriting the state’s renewable energy standard because the amendment would remove “regulatory certainty” for business.

“I would suggest we exercise prudent restraint,” said Rep. Russell Jennings, R-Lakin. “In fairness to business, and in fairness to the people of Kansas, they need some certainty.”

Rep. Dennis Hedke, R-Wichita, and chairman of the House Energy and Environment Committee, which had sent the bill to the full House, said his committee “appropriately handled it.”

Gov. Sam Brownback, who has championed development of wind energy resources in Kansas, said $3 billion was invested in the state’s wind system during 2012. A federal tax break was central to moving Kansas to third place in production behind Texas and California, but the renewable portfolio standard rule sparked interest among Kansas utilities.

The RPS was adopted in 2009 as part of a compromise ending a legislative stalemate blocking issuance of a state permit necessary for construction of a coal-fired power plant in southwest Kansas.

Construction on the facility to be operated by a Kansas cooperative hasn’t started, and some legislators pointed to that reality as justification for ending an portfolio standard particularly beneficial to wind development. Some lawmakers said the state should emphasize production of power from more reliable sources, such as coal and natural gas.

“Experience has shown us that renewable energy mandates, like the one on the books in Kansas, hurt consumers,” Norquist said. “This command and control policy forces companies to procure energy from more costly and less reliable sources with the increased costs passed on to consumers in the form of higher utility bills.”

However, an official with Westar Energy in Topeka said the state’s renewable standard was good public policy that had a “relatively small” influence on cost of energy paid by consumers.

Kimberly Svaty, who represents the Wind Coalition’s turbine manufacturers, public interest activists and wind farm developers, said the state was closing in on the 15 percent requirement. She said the program helped to generate jobs and investment in the state.