The Kansas Senate took a step backward Tuesday when members voted 25-15 to repeal worthwhile renewable energy standards for electric utilities.
The law senators hope to appeal was passed in 2009 and requires that utilities operating in this state be able by 2014 to produce 15 percent of their peak generating capacity from wind and other alternative energy sources. The same law, called the Renewable Portfolio Standard, raises the threshold to 20 percent of peak generating capacity by 2020.
Advocates of repealing the law are led, or pushed, by Americans for Prosperity, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and ALEC — the American Legislative Exchange Council — which drafts model legislation for conservative lawmakers. Most Kansas House members will likely take their cues from the same sources.
The chief arguments for repealing the law are that doing so would let the free market decide the future of alternative energy and that forcing utilities to branch out into alternative energy has raised rates for consumers.
As to the free market argument, it has some validity. Wind farms do benefit from property tax breaks and from federal tax credits that aren’t permanent. But that argument is offset by the fact that oil and gas producers have long been beneficiaries of government largesse in the form of property and severance tax reductions and exemptions.
There’s also a sliver of truth to the argument that the Renewable Portfolio Standard contributes to an increase in utility rates. Yet the fraction attributable to wind energy is about one-fifth of one cent per kilowatt hour. It’s negligible. Even the Kansas Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities in Kansas, has estimated that renewable energy costs make up less than 2.2 percent of Kansans’ utility bills.
The arguments for retaining the Renewable Energy Portfolio are considerably more convincing, at least to those with open minds. For instance, the wind energy industry, including plants that manufacture parts for the giant windmills, has taken off in Kansas since 2009. The thousands of jobs — and the growing tax revenue from those jobs — that advocates of alternative energy say have been created are no exaggeration.
State Sen. Tom Hawk, a Manhattan Democrat, has a valid question when he asks, “What kind of signals are we sending economically to people who create jobs and want to come to Kansas to do business?”
As is abundantly evident today, wind is one of this state’s great natural resources. Sunshine is another. Both are underutilized, largely because they don’t have the political clout that traditional energy sources have. The Renewable Energy Portfolio has encouraged investors to begin tapping that vast potential. Repealing that law won’t undo all the progress made, but it will thwart further advances that would only make Kansas more prosperous.