Kansas Legislators Continue to Stand Up for the Renewable Portfolio Standard

Yesterday was another good day for Kansas and the Renewable Portfolio Standard.  The Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) ensures that Kansans receive a certain percentage of renewable energy like wind and solar in their electricity mix, culminating in 20 percent renewable energy by 2020.  Upon a second review, the House Energy and Environment Committee voted 10-9 to table House Bill 2241, which would have completely repealed the 20 percent target of the RPS.   

The attack on Kansas’s RPS had been two-pronged.  There had been a Senate Bill that would have delayed RPS targets by two to four years.  This was rejected by the Senate 23-17 in late February.  On the same day, the House voted 63-59 to send House Bill 2241 back down to committee for further review.  Both the Senate and the House have a supermajority of Republicans, showing that the RPS truly is a bipartisan issue.     

After being sent and withdrawn from several committees, Houses Bill 2241 wound up back where it had been introduced – in the Committee on Energy and Environment.  Yesterday was the reconsideration hearing on the bill, which I attended. 

Despite a standing-room-only crowd in the hearing room, with what I estimate to be about 90 members of the public present, no one was allowed to testify at this hearing.  Instead, interested parties were allowed to submit written comments.  NRDC, along with over twenty other parties, submitted comments opposing HB 2241. 

As I read through the testimony, I was touched by how the RPS has positively affected people in every corner of Kansas.  There was testimony from faith-based groups, environmental groups, clean energy groups, economic development groups, steelworkers, wind developers, farmers, county commissioners, and several chambers of commerce.  All of these people took the time to explain to the Committee how the RPS and wind energy was making a positive difference in their lives and their communities, and many of them attended yesterday’s hearing.

During the hearing, Representative Moxley, a Republican and rancher by trade, said it best when he noted that there is an entire industry built up on the RPS, meaning hundreds of millions of dollars, and that changing this would be devastating to Kansas's economy.  The RPS truly is a bipartisan issue that is bringing jobs and prosperity to the state.  The number of wind farms that came online from 2011 to 2012, after the passage of the RPS, nearly doubled Kansas’s installed wind capacity. And the 19 wind farms operating in Kansas have created more than 12,300 jobs, $13.7 million in payments to landowners annually, and $10.4 million in contributions to communities each year.  These are real benefits, experienced by real Kansans.

There were also two proposed amendments to House Bill 2241 – one would have frozen the standard at 15 percent, the other would have weakened the standard from 20 percent by 2020 to 17.5 percent by 2030.  The Committee rejected both amendments. 

Then, Representative Jennings, a Republican from Western Kansas, moved to table the bill, which means that a vote on the bill is adjourned until a later time.  This is what passed 10-9.  Some news outlets are reporting this as “a possible death sentence late in the session” for House Bill 2241, especially when the Senate has already made it clear that it is not interested in weakening the RPS.  I am cautiously optimistic that this is in fact the last we’ll see of efforts to roll back the RPS in Kansas this year.    

If the RPS prevails in Kansas, it would deal a huge blow to the nation-wide efforts to roll back state RPS policies led by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—a coalition of conservative state legislators and corporations – and other fossil fuel-funded groups, including the Heartland Institute, the American Tradition Institute, and Americans for Prosperity.  The Beacon Hill Institute, a fossil-fuel funded think tank, has released very poorly researched and highly inaccurate studies in several states, including Kansas, concluding that the Renewable Portfolio Standard would lead to increases in electricity prices and the loss of thousands of jobs.  NRDC has created factsheets and reports to counter these bogus claims.  As evidenced by the amount of time and money these fossil fuel-funded interests have put into trying to repeal the RPS in Kansas, we can assume they will also put up similar fights in other states like Missouri, Ohio, and North Carolina.   

But we all can learn from Kansans.  They signed thousands of online petitions supporting the RPS, wrote dozens of letters to the editor in the local newspapers, and drove hundreds of miles to attend hearings.  And their voices were heard loud and clear: the Renewable Portfolio Standard is working.  I continue to thank the legislators for getting that message, and I hope they continue to defend the RPS in Kansas for years to come.      

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