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SPOTLIGHT
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Against the wind

Published on -3/28/2014, 10:05 AM

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We weren't aware Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback ever has been ambiguous regarding his support of wind energy.

In 2012, while attending the dedication ceremony of the Spearville 3 100-megawatt project, the governor lavished high praise.

"The creation of new jobs, spurring investment and technological innovation while helping revitalize our rural parts of Kansas are top priorities of my Administration," Brownback said. "The Spearville 3 Wind Farm developed by EDF Renewable Energy is an outstanding example of the confluence of these objectives."

The Spearville 3 power will be exported to Missouri, where Kansas City Power & Light is purchasing it. Such a purchase isn't unique. Utility and energy companies throughout the country have been expanding their power portfolio, driven in part because fossil fuels at some point will be exhausted -- and by various mandates levied to invest in renewable sources.

Kansas has such a law on the books. As part of a compromise to allow the construction of Sunflower Electric's proposed power plant near Holcomb, Gov. Mark Parkinson got utility companies to agree to provide 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Sunflower's still struggling to clear regulatory and legal hurdles, but all utility companies are either close to or already surpassing the benchmark.

So when the Kansas Senate passed a bill to repeal the renewable energy standards, we were somewhat surprised. Not surprised anybody in Topeka would do the bidding of the American Legislative Exchange Council, Americans for Prosperity or the Kansas Chamber of Commerce -- all of whom seek the law's repeal. But surprised 25 senators would vote against the economic prosperity of local governments already reaping rewards of operating wind farms, the ancillary manufacturing facilities employing Kansans, educational institutions with curriculum geared to this industry, or any individual who has a turbine on their property.

As the state has the second-highest potential for wind energy in the country, the list of direct benefactors grows on a daily basis. But apparently the misinformation provided by AFP and others was persuasive. They blame the energy mandate on Kathleen Sebelius (incorrectly but since she can be tied to Obamacare easily that's close enough). They said Kansans have had 15 rate hikes that led to 39 percent higher electricity bills, and somehow there were fewer jobs because of the Renewable Portfolio Standards.

"Let's repeal this mandate and allow the free market system to work," said Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe.

Sounds great. Unfortunately, it's as disingenuous as the other AFP talking points.

Power generated by coal and natural gas does not happen without the hidden hand of government support. Subsidies in whatever form likely haven't been necessary for decades, but they're still given. To believe otherwise is to deny reality. Of course, this is the same body that believes it can legislate away global warming and climate change simply by saying it isn't so.

As for the added costs of wind and other renewable sources, the Kansas Corporation Commission estimates that is less than 2.2 percent of the total bill. The KCC also notes thousands of Kansas jobs have been added because of wind, and the higher electricity costs have come about because of EPA-mandated retrofits at coal plants and transmission upgrades.

Thanks goodness the Kansas House of Representatives rejected the Senate plan this week. Seventy-seven representatives who recognize the economic benefit saw through the AFP ruse and stopped the repeal in its tracks.

"This is nothing more than folks who want to exercise political power," said Rep. Russ Jennings, R-Lakin. "This is about wanting to have a win for the sake of having a win ... "

We salute those in the House who were able to thwart the efforts of outside interest groups. We're sure it won't become a trend. But for those of us in western Kansas where the real wind blows, alternative energy could expand to become one of our leading exports.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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