by Trevor Graff, KHI News Service
Topeka — The repeal Kansas standards for renewable energy generation may be debated by the full Senate after members of the Senate Utilities committee today recommended a bill to eliminate them.
The party line vote, with Republicans favoring the bill and Democrats opposed, can allow floor action on the topic, though similar legislation to roll back the standards failed before the Senate last year.
The bill’s proponents said that despite the lack of information showing the standards’ add much to electrical prices, they were convinced repealing them would either lower rates or discourage future increases.
“The proponents said they didn’t know if this would reduce the rates, but it would definitely prolong the rates from going up,” said Sen. Robert Olson, an Olathe Republican. “It’s also a mandate. I believe it will lower rates. It won’t increase rates.”
The panel’s Democrats disagreed. Sen. Marci Francisco, a Lawrence Democrat, said that with the recent launch of an integrated electricity market by the Southwest Power Pool, a power grid that connects Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma and parts of Texas and Arkansas, the committee should not be sending a negative message to utility companies.
“Without having anymore information about the affect of that very recent (March 1) change, I think we could be sending this signal this year and turning around and saying, ‘Oh my gosh we want our utility companies to be players in that market so we can reduce the cost of energy for our customers,’” Francisco said.
Most utility companies in the state already meet the renewable standards, according to the bill’s opponents, and several national corporations are beginning to seek states with renewable energy standards for their sustainable manufacturing initiatives.
“If what we’re trying to do is add jobs in Kansas we need to be very careful that we’re not putting barriers in front of economic development and making this state less attractive to national firms.”
Francisco said. Sen. Forrest Knox, an Altoona Republican, said that the expiration of the federal Production Tax Credit for wind energy at the end of 2013 changed the nature of the debate this year.
Without the tax credit, he said, wind energy costs are going to rise.
“If we continue down this road and have to build wind to cover our RPS, it’s going to cost us significantly,” Knox said. “It’s going to cost the ratepayer. We’ve built way ahead of the RPS. This is the way business works and that’s where we’re going here is saying let’s let business do it’s thing.”
The state’s leading regulated electric utility companies, such as Westar, did not weigh in on the bill for or against.
“Since we are reasonably close to the standards that we’re looking for I do think that this will have a negative impact on the competition of the state,” said Sen. Tom Hawk, a Manhattan Democrat. “I think that we want to create jobs and a good state economy and I don’t see that removing the RPS, in any way, will get us to that joint goal.”
Hawk and Francisco voted against the bill.
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