AP: Kansas House not ready to lessen green energy rules
TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas House members weren't ready Thursday to back off a state policy requiring utilities to generate 20 percent of their electricity from wind and other renewable resources by 2020, but the state Senate took up its own, similar measure.
Some conservative Republicans are pushing to reconsider the renewable energy standards set in 2009 as part of an agreement with then-Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson to allow construction of a new coal-fired power plant in southwest Kansas that's tied up in legal disputes. They've argued that the state shouldn't tamper with market forces that guide utilities' choice of fuel for their generators and that the renewable energy standards will increase consumers' costs.
But even some Republicans in the GOP-dominated Legislature argued that the standards have created a healthy environment for the development of wind farms and changing the policy would jeopardize that.
The House voted 63-59 to send its bill back to committee, a move that could prevent its passage this year. The measure would postpone a requirement that utilities generate 15 percent of their electricity from renewable resources from 2016 to 2018 and keep it at 15 percent instead of increasing it to 20 percent.
"Is Kansas open for business, or are we going to attract business and then change the rules of the game?" said Rep. Vern Swanson, a Clay Center Republican who opposed the bill.
Senators expected to take final action Thursday on their measure, which would postpone the deadline for the 20 percent standard by four years, until 2024.
At the urging of Sen. Forrest Knox, an Altoona Republican, senators added a provision to the bill requiring the Kansas Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities, to study the cost to consumers of imposing the standards.
"We need to the tools to be watching," Knox said.
Kansas utilities have acknowledged that they're already close to generating 15 percent of their power from renewable resources, and several wind farms have been constructed in recent years.
The state's largest retail electric company, Topeka-based Westar Energy Inc., is not taking a public position on changing the standards.
Gov. Sam Brownback's spokeswoman, Sherriene Jones-Sontag, said the Republican would review any change sent to him by lawmakers, but that he is committed to expanding the wind-energy industry in the state.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, a Washington-based group that promotes free-market policies and brings corporate leaders and conservative state lawmakers together, has drafted model "Electricity Freedom" legislation for repealing such renewable energy standards.
House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, and Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, serve on the group's national board.
In committee hearings, much of the public support for backing off the standards has come from conservative think-tanks such as the Kansas Policy Institute, based in Wichita, and the Heartland Institute of Chicago.
"This is a pro-ratepayer bill," said freshman Rep. Craig McPherson, an Overland Park Republican. "This is a great opportunity to be able to make an effort to reduce those costs that your constituents are feeling."
The idea of revising the standards also has the backing of Koch Industries Inc., the multibillion-dollar Wichita-based firm with oil, natural gas and energy products interests, though spokeswoman Melissa Cohlmia said Thursday that legislation "was not a high priority" and noted that the company hasn't testified publicly on it.
"Overregulation, subsidies, and cronyism distort the marketplace and result in higher energy prices for every American," Cohlmia said in an email statement. "We don't think government should be picking winners and losers in the marketplace based on the industries or products it chooses to subsidize."
The House's bill on the renewable portfolio standard is HB 2241. The Senate's measure is SB 82.
Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org
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