Category Archives: Energy

How can renewable-energy supporters compete with Kochs?

turbinewindmillSenate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, argued Tuesday that a bill blocking another gambling vote in Sedgwick County for 18 years was needed because opponents of expanded gaming have difficulty competing with the resources of casino owner Phil Ruffin. “He spends a lot of money on influencing legislators,” Wagle said. But just a few hours later, the Senate approved a bill revoking the state’s renewable portfolio standard. The standard has helped generate billions of dollars of investment in Kansas and is overwhelmingly supported by the public, according to a recent survey. But the standard is opposed by the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity and Kansas Chamber of Commerce, which spent more than a million dollars last election purging moderates from the state Senate. How can supporters of renewable energy, which includes faith groups, compete with those resources?

Good for Brownback for looking into earthquakes

fracking1Credit Gov. Sam Brownback with taking seriously the possibility of a link between the recent seismic activity in south-central Kansas and expanded oil and gas production, specifically the fluid injection involved in “fracking.” Brownback has named a task force to hear from industry and stakeholders beginning with an April 16 meeting at Wichita State University and to otherwise study the issue, calling it a “matter of public safety.” The temblors have been mild, but it’s not safe to assume they will continue to be. At the very least, Kansas would seem to need more than two U.S. Geological Survey monitoring stations.

Kansans like wind power, energy standard

turbinecowsMore than 9 in 10 Kansas voters support using renewable energy, according to a new poll conducted by North Star Opinion Research and commissioned by environmental and wind-energy advocates. And though some state lawmakers, including House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, want to revoke the state’s renewable energy standard, 75 percent of voters surveyed (including 73 percent of Republicans) support the 2009 law requiring Kansas utility companies to generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. More than two-thirds of voters would support raising the energy standard to 25 percent, even if that would cost them more, according to the poll. Majorities of voters said they would be willing to pay between $1 and $5 more per month to increase the renewable energy standard.

Brownback a champion of climate change?

Arctic MeltGov. Sam Brownback likely winced at being included in a list of “eight champions of climate change in the U.S. in 2013” published in the Guardian newspaper. Brownback was cited for fighting off “cynical attacks to repeal state renewable portfolio standards.” Brownback’s motive likely was more economic than environmental, as energy standards and wind tax credits have helped fuel billions of dollars of investment in wind projects in Kansas in the past few years.

Wall Street Journal likes Pompeo’s stand on wind

turbinetractorA Wall Street Journal editorial arguing for expiration of the wind production tax credit included praise for the 4th District’s congressman. “One admirable exception to the Wind Belt political rule is Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo, who keeps reminding fellow Republicans that they claim to oppose corporate welfare,” the editorial board said, noting Pompeo had collected 52 House signatures on a letter arguing to end the tax credit. The editorial called the 20-year-old credit “so generous relative to the wholesale price of electricity that it is distorting energy investment.”

Resignation of KCC chairman is for the best

sieversIt is for the best that Kansas Corporation Commission Chairman Mark Sievers plans to resign as soon as a replacement is appointed. Sievers came from Colorado and never seemed to be a good fit at the KCC, which regulates utilities in Kansas. KCC staff criticized Sievers for not addressing serious management problems with the KCC’s former executive director. Sievers also was perceived as being more concerned about making rate hearings easier on the utility companies and the KCC than about protecting consumers. He has been critical of the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board, a small state agency that represents residential and small-business utility customers, and he recently suggested that the KCC stop requiring cost studies if a rate-increase request is less than 10 percent.

Westar increase still stings

Well, a $3-a-month increase in residential electric bills is better than what Westar Energy wanted. And the new proposal, which still must be approved by the Kansas Corporation Commission, drops the bad idea of increasing rates on residential customers and small businesses so that Westar can cut rates on big businesses. But the increase still stings, especially when it is Westar’s 19th requested rate hike in the past four years.

Let CURB be heard in Westar case

It’s bad enough that the Kansas Corporation Commission so often discounts and even ignores the concerns of the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board, a watchdog agency created by state law to represent residential and small-business utility customers. It will be worse if a KCC official’s ruling stands and CURB is not allowed to intervene in a $10.5 million Westar Energy rate case relating to energy-saving thermostats for homeowners and multimillion-dollar rebates for Wichita’s Occidental Chemical Corp. “If we’re not there, the only parties (in the case) will be Westar and the KCC staff,” said David Springe, CURB chief consumer counsel. The KCC prehearing officer, Brian Fedotin, ruled that CURB hadn’t shown that its participation was necessary to ensure small consumers’ interests would be adequately represented. CURB has appealed the ruling. Surely Westar’s 19 requested rate increases since 2009, for almost $470 million total, should be evidence enough of the need for residential and small-business ratepayers to be fully represented in every case.

Transmission lines key to surge in wind power

One of the reasons why Kansas was slow to tap its wind-energy potential was that it lacked the infrastructure to transmit that power to energy markets. But thanks to the work spearheaded by former Gov. Mark Parkinson, which the Brownback administration has admirable continued, new transmission lines are helping move power both across Kansas and out of state. The Kansas Corporation Commission approved last week the route for a new 60-mile transmission line in north central Kansas being developed by ITC Great Plains and Mid-Kansas Electric Company. New transmission lines – along with the state’s renewable energy standards, which Parkinson also spearheaded – are a key reason why the amount of wind energy generating capacity in Kansas more than doubled in 2012, boosting Kansas into the top 10 states for wind power.

Expect more ALEC-backed bills targeting energy standards

A number of the bills that come before the Kansas Legislature have emerged from the American Legislative Exchange Council and its task forces. House Energy and Environment Committee Chairman Dennis Hedke, R-Wichita, told the Topeka Capital-Journal about two ideas out of the recent ALEC convention that would target state renewable energy standards – the “Market-Power Renewables Act” and the “Renewable Energy Credit Act.” One would let consumers choose whether to purchase electricity from renewable sources from their utilities. Hedke told the Capital-Journal that his ALEC task force also approved a resolution opposing a carbon tax. “The overall group was very diverse, with a great number of states represented, expertise appearing in panels, and other very valuable metrics,” said Hedke, one of 11 Kansas GOP legislators who used state dollars to pay their $475 ALEC conference registration fee in advance.

Four years later and no new coal plant

One of the first acts of Gov. Mark Parkinson’s brief administration was a May 2009 deal to allow an 895-megawatt coal-fired power plant to be built near Holcomb. The agreement, which ended a nasty political fight, also led to long-sought clean-energy initiatives in Kansas including a renewable portfolio standard. That RPS lives on, surviving an attempted legislative rollback just this year. But the power plant remains unbuilt and recently took another legal blow, when a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected Sunflower Electric Power Corp.’s request to overturn a lower court ruling that had stalled the plant’s construction. Now, Sunflower CEO Stuart Lowry told the Garden City Telegram, “the question will be whether or not additional approvals will be required and, if so, what the scope of the environmental impact study will be.” There are other legal hurdles. And after four years it’s fair to wonder whether the plant will ever be financed and built, or whether the market for the power still exists. But Lowry argued: “The cost to date and the foreseeable cost are clearly outweighed by the benefits, even today.”

Oil sands also create dirty waste product

One environmental concern about piping Canada’s oil sands to U.S. refineries is all the petroleum coke that will be left over from the refining process. The Environmental Protection Agency no longer allows new licensing permits for burning the high-sulfur, high-carbon waste product, the New York Times reported. As a result, most petroleum coke is sold to Mexico and China, which don’t have as many pollution rules. Companies associated with Koch Industries and Bill Koch are leading exporters of the product. Another concern is where to store the petroleum coke before it is exported. The Times reported on a three-story pile of petroleum coke that covers an entire city block in Windsor, Ontario, across the river from Detroit.

Pass gas-storage safety act

Praise is due Sens. Pat Roberts (left) and Jerry Moran (right), R-Kan., for trying again to do something about the 11 natural-gas storage fields in the state that have gone without government inspection since a 2009 court ruling. Like their similar 2011 bill, the latest legislation should be a no-brainer – “allowing states to step in when the federal government fails to monitor natural-gas storage sites,” as Moran said in a statement. Anyone wondering why this matters should check with residents in Hutchinson, the site of a 2001 tragedy in which migrating gas underground caused explosions that killed one couple and destroyed a block of downtown businesses. The longer Congress waits to respond to the federal government’s inaction and to restore the state’s authority to regulate interstate gas storage, the greater the risk of more explosions.

Pro-con: Should U.S. boost energy exploration?

Can increasing American energy exploration improve our economy? Yes, but more to the point, it’s already happening. Energy – and the jobs and growth it will drive – is the foundation for our economic recovery. Our nation is blessed with some of the most abundant energy resources on Earth. Thanks in large part to the technology-driven shale boom, we have enough natural gas to power America for 120 years. We also have at least 200 years of oil under our lands and off our shores and more than 250 years of coal. And that’s just what we can recover with today’s technology. With continued advancements, we will be able to access even greater domestic supplies in the future. Energy presents the biggest opportunity to build a stronger foundation and a brighter future for our country. The 21st century has brought America an era of energy abundance. Let’s make the most of it for the sake of our economy, competitiveness and national security. – Karen A. Harbert, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Abandoning fossil-fuel exploration altogether is not feasible for America. But significant further government support of oil and gas drilling in places like the Alaskan wilderness or the American heartland in the name of economic growth would be a huge mistake. Instead, for our national security, economic growth and a sound energy policy, what we need is to shift to promoting industries and technologies that focus on clean, renewable and alternative sources of energy. Clean-tech is a fast-growing global industry that holds the potential to fix our current climate and other environmental challenges and build the jobs of tomorrow. The 2010 BP oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and the serious concerns raised about hydraulic fracturing have not merely been the results of chance. Nor are the extreme storms, droughts and heat waves, which are expected to rise in frequency and severity with fossil fuel use-linked climate change. The U.S. cannot afford to invest and lock itself into many more decades of reliance on the dirty and unsustainable sources of energy of the past. – Tseming Yang, Santa Clara University

Lawmakers not willing to weaken energy standard

It was a bit of a surprise last week when neither the Kansas House nor Senate approved a measure that would weaken the state’s renewable-energy standard. Good for both chambers. Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist had lobbied lawmakers to make the change, and Koch Industries worked behind the scenes for the bill. But some lawmakers were concerned that changing the rules would create “regulatory uncertainty.” And an official with Westar Energy said the renewable standard was good public policy that had only a “relatively small” influence on the energy costs paid by consumers, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

Pompeo sees dollars signs in energy exports

In a commentary in Politico, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, warns against letting politicians and bureaucrats derail the “staggeringly enormous opportunity for wealth creation” offered by hydrocarbon production and pushes back against business and environmental interests that would stall expansion of U.S. energy exports. “Federal policy should not block those who are prepared to risk their own wealth to create an enormous energy export industry here in America,” Pompeo. “The argument here is more than ‘Drill, Baby, Drill’ – it is ‘produce wealth, produce wealth, produce wealth’ – and all the jobs that come with it.”

Brownback pleased with extension of wind tax credit

Gov. Sam Brownback was pleased that Congress included an extension of the production tax credit for wind-energy products in the fiscal-cliff deal. Brownback had joined 27 other governors to advocate for the PTC, which has been key to the $3 billion investment in wind power that Kansas saw in 2011 and 2012. One study also found that Kansas landowners had received $273 million in income by leasing land for the wind turbines. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran also supported the extension, but it was opposed by all of Kansas’ House delegation, with Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, leading the criticism that the wind industry needed to move off the taxpayer dole.

Disconnect on global warming

An area of Arctic sea ice bigger than the United States melted this year, and ice cover reached “a new record low” in the area around the North Pole, according to a report released this week by the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization. Droughts covered nearly two-thirds of the United States this year, as well as western Russia and southern Europe. The Arkansas River in Wichita (in photo) is at its second-lowest level in the 78 years the United States Geological Survey has been keeping records, and the Mississippi River is so low that it is halting some barge traffic. Climate scientists are predicting more devastating storms like Hurricane Sandy due to shifting weather and air patterns caused by global warming. Meanwhile, the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank funded heavily by oil companies, is working with the American Legislative Exchange Council to write model legislation for states such as Kansas to repeal renewable-energy mandates.

Will Obama approve Keystone XL after all?

“We believe the White House will reverse course and approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would ship crude from Canada’s western oil sands to the Gulf Coast,” ratings agency Moody’s predicted Monday. Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, told the Financial Times that the pipeline “will be a threshold test as to how serious the president is about producing America’s oil and natural gas.” But environmentalists want President Obama to make permanent his delay of the permit for the northern section of the pipeline, as a way to show he intends to tackle climate change. Noting that Obama’s victory speech mentioned an “America not threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet,” Bill McKibben wrote in the Washington Post that “if he really gets that this is the legacy issue of all legacy issues, one that stretches out into geologic time, then he’ll listen to the scientists and not the lobbyists. Keystone is his first best chance to help keep serious quantities of carbon out of the atmosphere.” Moody’s report on Obama’s second term also cautioned that regulatory scrutiny may increase for hydraulic fracturing and remain strict over deepwater exploration.

Gas rate settlement better than initial request

Though natural-gas bills still would go up – an average of about $2 a month – at least they won’t increase as much as Kansas Gas Service wanted. KGS had requested a rate increase of $32 million a year, which included $8 million to pay for bonuses to utility executives. The new agreement reached by KGS, staff of the Kansas Corporation Commission and a consumer watchdog agency would reduce the rate increase to $10 million a year. The three-member commission has yet to approve the settlement.

Gas customers shouldn’t pay for bonuses to executives

Natural-gas customers shouldn’t have their rates go up to pay for bonuses to utility executives for making more money for stockholders. But $8 million of the $32 million-a-year rate increase requested by Kansas Gas Service would do that. The utility argues that the bonuses help attract top-quality executives, who are then better able to run the company efficiently. But if those executives are making money for stockholders, the stockholders should be the ones paying for the bonuses.

Pompeo campaigns against wind tax credit

“If you need a tax credit to compete, you are probably not that competitive,” wrote U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, in a Politico commentary calling for the end of the wind-energy production tax credit. Pompeo also lashed out at the administration’s loan to solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra and President Obama’s record of “a jobless and exceedingly shallow recovery.” Pompeo concluded that GOP presidential nominee Mitt “Romney’s opposition to continuing the wind subsidy is absolutely correct. At some point, an industry has to either succeed or fail on its own merits. For wind companies, we are at that point now.”

Is gas rate increase reasonable?

Kansas Gas Service’s latest plan to raise rates $32.7 million is raising the ire of many ratepayers. Residential customers are irked at the idea of paying about 9.1 percent more as large commercial users pay an average of 8.2 percent less and some unnamed users pay 20 percent less. Small businesses would pay 2.5 percent more. KGS is also seeking a 10.75 percent rate of return for its investors, which strikes many people as excessive in this down economy.

Pipeline a tax boon to Nebraska but not Kansas

It had to be painful for residents of six Kansas counties to read last week about how the Keystone oil pipeline is boosting property tax revenue in Nebraska. Butler, Clay, Cowley, Dickinson, Marion and Washington counties – which the pipeline crosses – are receiving no property taxes thanks to a boneheaded move by Kansas lawmakers in 2006 to grant a 10-year property tax exemption. The counties expect to lose between $75 million and $100 million in tax revenue over the exemption period. Kansas is the only state along the pipeline route with such an exemption. A county clerk in Nebraska said last week that his county might lower its tax levy because of the extra revenue. Meanwhile, county officials in Kansas are struggling to pay their bills.

Pompeo/Romney vs. Brownback/Moran/Roberts on wind credits

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, applauded GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s announcement last week that he wants wind-energy tax credits to expire at the end of this year. “For the better part of my first term in Congress, I have been working to halt the practice of using taxpayer dollars to pick winners and losers in our energy markets,” Pompeo said. “I’m thankful for Gov. Romney’s strong stance in favor of ending the 20-year-old wind-production tax credit this year.” Gov. Sam Brownback and Kansas Sens. Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts support extending the tax credit and have noted how the credits have helped spur wind-energy production in Kansas. A bill extending the credit cleared the Senate Finance Committee last week, with Roberts voting for the extension.