Powerful win for the region

3/29/2014

You can't miss local signs of progress on the energy front.

From activity at Transportation Partners and Logistics — a distribution site for blades and other wind-generating components — to ethanol production at Bonanza BioEnergy, the pursuit of renewable energy has created jobs and economic gains.

Such success stories are prevalent throughout the region, as wind farms and biofuel producers materialize. With the jobs and dollars those ventures pump into communities, it's easy to see how powering renewable energy from wind to ethanol makes sense — especially in rural western Kansas.

Rep. Russ Jennings, R-Lakin, clearly understands as much.

He proved it by being at the forefront of debate Wednesday as Kansas House members faced off on the future of the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), and scored an important win.

Jennings and others defending the renewable energy standards fought off a number of misconceptions and lies about supposed rate increases and other negative fallout of a renewable energy deal brokered in 2009 by then-Gov. Mark Parkinson. The plan included clearing an obstacle to expansion of the Sunflower Electric Power Corp. plant at Holcomb, and initiatives to power wind and other renewable energy in demand in Kansas and beyond.

The reasonable deal called for utilities to draw 10 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2011, 15 percent by 2016 and 20 percent by 2020.

But the standards have been targeted by giant oil-and-gas conglomerate Koch Industries, through Americans for Prosperity (AFP). The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) also has a national blueprint for state lawmakers to attack renewable energy standards.

They all claim such mandates lead to costly subsidies, overregulation and higher energy prices.

Facts in the Sunflower State prove otherwise. The utility-regulating Kansas Corporation Commission said electricity generated with renewable resources accounts for less than 2.2 percent of Kansans' bills. Rate increases cited by critics actually were driven by other factors.

AFP, ALEC, the Kansas Chamber and their camp also repeat the same, tired argument about the state picking winners and losers, yet there's no outcry over tax breaks for oil and gas producers.

The same Kochs who would wage war on so-called corporate welfare have reaped the benefit of taxpayer subsidies involving energy production, among other government-related deals.

Critics of Kansas' renewable energy standards also ignore how related projects have created thousands of jobs. And, the American Wind Energy Association reported wind energy companies alone spending more than $5 billion in capital investment in Kansas.

But, as expected, lawmakers who take marching orders from special-interest AFP and company voted to repeal the RPS. Among them was Sen. Larry Powell, R-Garden City, apparently oblivious to success stories in his district that spurred jobs, capital investment and benefit to area farmers and landowners.

Sen. Garrett Love, R-Montezuma, rightly acknowledged the benefit in his district and voted against the measure.

While the attempt to repeal the RPS passed the Kansas Senate on Tuesday, a day later a bipartisan coalition in the House voted to kill the bill. Jennings and fellow Republicans John Doll of Garden City, Don Hineman of Dighton and Steve Alford of Ulysses were among representatives on the right side of the vote.

"This is nothing more than folks who want to exercise political power," Jennings said. "This is about wanting to have a win for the sake of having a win without considering the potential benefit all this has."

AFP, naturally, vowed to fight on. If they didn't already, Jennings and others who defended the renewable energy standards now have big targets on their backs. We know how those who won't bow down to AFP and the Kansas Chamber can be unfairly maligned.

With that in mind, lawmakers deserve all the more credit for bucking the special-interest groups and supporting what's best for their districts. They did what their constituents elected them to do.

Unfortunately, we can't say the same for others in their midst.

Email Editor-publisher Dena Sattler at denas@gctelegram.com.

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