A Kansas state bill calling for the repeal of renewable electricity requirements for utility companies passed the state Senate on Tuesday, only to be roundly defeated in the House the following day, 44-77.
SB 433, which gained the support of a variety of conservative organizations including the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Americans for Prosperity, would have yanked state requirements for utility companies to acquire a minimum of 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. Renewable electricity standards, or RES (also known as Renewable Portfolio Standards, RPS), in Kansas mandate utility providers to gradually target a minimum threshold of renewable energy sources in their portfolios and set a deadline for fulfillment.
Supporters of SB 433 argued Wednesday that the RES was raising consumers’ utility bills. Rep. Marc Rhodes (R) argued before the House that continuing to support the RES would lead to “40 percent increases to the electrical rates to your constituents.” His statement was met by a chorus of disbelief.
But Rep. Russell Jennings (R) dismissed the statement, saying that Kansas utility companies had raised the rates not due to renewable electricity requirements, but in response to the federally mandated pollution controls now being used on coal-burning facilities like the Holcomb plant, near his home.
And it isn’t just the cost of the controls that have opponents steamed. In October 2013, after what opponents call a “quid pro quo” with renewable energy supporters that allowed a second plant, Holcomb II, to be built, the Kansas Supreme Court invalidated its 2010 pollution permit, saying that the emission source construction would need to be reconsidered by the granting agency, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, since it did not meet current environmental requirements. The ruling meant that the yet-to-be-opened 895 MW plant, Holcomb II, would need to solidify further financial backing in order to meet the new standards, a step that critics said would be hard to accomplish with today’s escalating focus on renewable energy as a way to reduce carbon emissions. The fate of Holcomb II remains in limbo.
While Kansas is only one of 29 states that currently have RES legislation in place, last week’s fight is a good measure of the tempo of this controversial issue as it moves across the country.
“There is an underlying, suggested promise that if the renewable energy standards portfolio goes away today, tomorrow our utility bills will go down,” Jennings said. “It is not true.”
“Mandates like the RPS disable the competition that ultimately leads to lower costs,” argues Jeff Glendening, director of the Kansas chapter of Americans for Prosperity. “It’s simply more of government picking winners and losers in the marketplace, and we would argue that is simply not an appropriate role for government.”
With SB 433 in the past for now, Kansas utility providers have until next year to ensure that 15 percent of their energy sources are from renewable electricity. But with the expensive loss of Holcomb II still fresh in the minds of many RES opponents, the fight to repeal such legislation is likely not over in Kansas, or in other parts of the country where the coal industry stands to lose.
Image credit: Drenaline