Category Archives: Energy

Chamber, AFP failed to purge more moderates

middleroadThis time, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity-Kansas failed to purge state lawmakers who wouldn’t toe their line. The groups targeted about half a dozen lawmakers who didn’t support attempts to repeal the state’s renewable energy standards. All of the lawmakers won their primaries Tuesday. “I was No. 1 on their hit list,” Rep. Russ Jennings, R-Lakin, told the Kansas Health Institute News Service. “But I stood my ground for the people of my district, and they got it.” In the 2012 primaries, the Koch-backed groups were successful in defeating several GOP moderates. Jennings thinks voters may have “some buyers’ remorse about what happened two years ago.”

Public wants action on climate change

coalplant3More than 6 in 10 Americans think action is needed to combat climate change, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey. What’s more, 57 percent support requiring companies to reduce greenhouse gases, even if it would mean higher utility bills for consumers. Also, 67 percent support a recent Environmental Protection Agency proposal to set strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants, which was not affected by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling Monday limiting some of EPA’s authority.

E-mail another sign that ‘Kansas Chamber’ means ‘Koch’

capitoldomeRep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, hasn’t elaborated on last week’s e-mail to supporters blaming an angry exchange with Koch Industries lobbyists for his failure to be among the Kansas Chamber of Commerce’s endorsements. The e-mail suggests he was punished for asking questions about the proposed repeal of the state’s renewable portfolio standard, which requires utility companies to obtain 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020. Whatever happened – and Kansas Chamber CEO Mike O’Neal characterized Schwab’s link to the Koch run-in as “without merit” – Schwab had a point in questioning why think tanks but no businesses were testifying in favor of an RPS repeal and in suggesting Koch should advocate for repeal publicly. If nothing else, as Rep. Tom Moxley, R-Council Grove, told the Topeka Capital-Journal, “It just lifts the covers off the Wizard of Oz so we know the Koch family is pulling the strings in the Kansas Chamber.”

Kansas’ reliance on coal power could cost it

coalplantholcombOf the 50 states, Kansas generates the 11th-highest percentage of its electricity from coal, or 63 percent as of March, according to the Washington Post. As a result, Kansas could be affected more than most states by proposed Environmental Protection Agency rules limiting carbon output from existing coal-fired power plants. West Virginia has the highest reliance on coal, at 95 percent; Idaho has the lowest reliance, at zero percent (78 percent of its electricity comes from hydroelectric power). Nineteen states get more than half their electricity from coal-fired plants. According to the EPA proposal, Kansas’ goal would be to cut emissions 23 percent by 2030.

Lobbyist spending up 25 percent this past session

capitolSpending on official lobbying in Kansas topped $1 million during January through April, according to a new report by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission. That’s 25 percent more than was spent during the 2013 legislative session. Americans for Prosperity was by far the biggest spender at $386,853 (mostly on advertising opposing the state’s renewable energy standards). The next two highest spenders were Wind Works for Kansas (supporting the energy standards) at $43,686 and the Kansas Senior Consumer Alliance (opposing the standards) at $40,470. Other groups that topped $10,000 in spending included Dillons ($23,125), the Kansas Bankers Association ($20,974), Uncork Kansas ($20,414), the Kansas Beer Wholesalers Association ($19,696), the Wind Coalition ($15,623), the Kansas State Council of Firefighters ($10,534) and the Kansas Credit Union Association ($10,026).

Big spenders didn’t prevail on renewable energy standards

turbinewindmillSupporters of renewable energy standards were outspent about 10-to-1 during this past legislative session, yet they were able to fend off six attempts to remove the standards, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. Three groups backing the standards spent $62,040, according to a new report by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission. In comparison, two groups that opposed the standards – the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Senior Consumer Alliance (which has ties to AFP) – spent $386,853 and $40,470, respectively, mostly on mass media advertising.

Who is behind ‘Kansas Senior Consumer Alliance’?

turbinewindmillDuring the final days of the legislative session, some Kansans received a postcard from the “Kansas Senior Consumer Alliance” urging them to contact their state House members and tell them to repeal the renewable portfolio standard on energy. What is this group? Here’s one big clue: Its registered lobbyist is Alan Cobb of Americans for Prosperity. The Koch brothers-backed AFP put out those awful TV ads featuring unflattering photos of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that claimed that “it’s no coincidence that some Kansans have experienced 15 electricity rate hikes since the RPS passed.” The postcards made a similar false claim. Good for lawmakers (rather, 63 of them – and none of them Republicans from Wichita) for resisting such pressure and misinformation.

Stop delaying decision on Keystone pipeline

keystoneprotestThe U.S. State Department said it is delaying a decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline because of a Nebraska court case about the pipeline route. But many others, including some Democratic lawmakers, see it as another stall tactic aimed at putting off the controversial decision until after the November elections. “I am frankly appalled at the continued foot-dragging by this administration on the Keystone project,” complained Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska. Many environmentalists oppose the pipeline, but 65 percent of Americans think it should be approved, according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll.

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.