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Against the wind

Even though the Kansas economy has been bolstered significantly with the introduction of wind energy production, there remain skeptics.

Not of the energy industry's inability to devise a storage solution for the intermittent and unpredictable surges the turbines produce. That, in our opinion, is worth a few questions, as until that's resolved the costs of wind energy simply are layered atop other sources.

Instead, Kansas wind skeptics are more concerned with politics and protecting long-standing interests of the oil industry. With the Legislature not convening for another six months, how else to explain the recent interest in whether renewable portfolio standards should be eliminated?

Incumbent Republican Rep. Kent Thompson of LaHarpe, who's facing a primary election battle in August, got to hear these words on a radio ad: "What if I told you this same candidate voted to keep a renewable energy mandate proposed by Kathleen Sebelius that drove up costs for Kansas families?"

The ad was paid for by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce's political action committee. Both the state chamber and Americans for Prosperity, two organizations with extremely close ties to Koch Industries, apparently are banking on the belief the Sebelius name, along with President Barack Obama's, are campaign winners. And if you don't let facts get in the way of a good campaign, and Kansas voters don't bother checking, we could end up with a whole bunch of wind-haters in Topeka.

But surely the pro-wind governor could halt anything lawmakers dared to pass, right?

Gov. Sam Brownback had both sides struggling with that answer Wednesday. In the morning, he told the Wichita Eagle and others he wanted to get rid of the state's renewable energy standards.

"RPS, you're in a similar position," Brownback said, "I think you need a four-year phase-out so you get some consistency and knowledge."

By late afternoon his spokeswoman was "clarifying" the governor's comments.

"The Governor made a comment intending to say he supports phasing out production tax credits (not RPS) and emphasized his continuing support for all forms of energy production in Kansas," said Eileen Hawley.

Whether he was confused or misspoke probably doesn't matter. Koch-backed candidates very well could have veto-override capabilities by the time January rolls around.

The relatively new wind energy business sector is reliant on subsidies, tax credits and forced mandates for energy companies to attract any private venture capital. It's an expensive proposition, one that will not make it in the marketplace if left to its own devices. Not until that storage problem is solved.

But that is precisely why the industry deserves taxpayer support. If turbines aren't producing, there will be no research on how to maximize that energy.

Most energy sources are subsidized. Oil is, to be sure. So is natural gas, coal, solar, nuclear, you name it.

So why would Big Oil not want wind in the mix? Because if that renewable source is perfected, fossil fuel's days are numbered. At the very least, it would jeopardize all the subsidies, tax breaks and credits that long have flowed to oil and gas companies. With no more pesky limits on campaign spending, the Koch brothers will be targeting wind proponents all over country -- not just in Kansas.

Be wary of candidates who speak of "reasonable" and "gradual" phasing out of Kansas' renewable energy standards. All they're doing is protecting the status quo by knocking out newcomer alternatives.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net