The legislature of the great state of Kansas, is preparing to consider a bill that would eliminate the renewable energy portfolio standard. The RPS requires investor-owned utilities in the state to procure 20% of energy capacity from renewable sources by 2020. It isn't the most aggressive RPS in the country, but it is significant for a state like Kansas, dominated by conservative leadership at all levels of state government.
A July 2012 Wichita Eagle article noted that Gray County, in southwestern Kansas, will collect $1.2 million in taxes each year from wind turbines. Landowners will collect more than $2 million per year over the life of the wind projects - typically 20 to 25 years. This is not-insignificant revenue for any municipal government and is particularly meaningful for western Kansas communities starved for economic development of any kind.
So why is the legislature considering repeal of the renewable portfolio standard?
At the same time the Wichita Eagle detailed the high growth and economic benefits of wind energy development in Kansas, the Kansas Policy Institute released a report examining the economic impact of the state renewable portfolio standard. The KPI describes itself as an
independent think-tank that advocates for free market solutions and the protection of personal freedom for all Kansans. Our work centers on state and local economic policy with primary emphasis on education, fiscal policy and health care. We empower citizens, legislators, and other government officials with objective research and creative ideas to promote a low-tax, pro-growth environment that preserves the ability of governments to provide high quality services.I think we can agree that wind energy development in Kansas can be defined as "pro-growth" and the millions provided to landowners and rural municipal governments "preserves the ability of governments to provide high quality services. The state doubled installed wind capacity in 2012, moving the state from #14 nationally for installed wind energy to the top 10 (though still lagging its #2 ranking for potential capacity).
Setting that aside, the report proceeds to argue poorly against the value of wind energy using outdated statistics and irrelevant comparisons written by people with no knowledge of the electric industry and who have never been to Kansas (to be fair, KPI farmed out the report to the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University of Boston, Mass.).
The authors cite national and global data about wind production not reflective of local production. The authors write about turbine technology installed in 2008 and earlier rather than the more powerful, productive turbines installed today (yet the report, while using the much lower capacity factors to argue against the value of wind later argue that Kansas should wait for the technology to mature before deployment - an explicit acknowledgement that the technology will improve while implying that the improvements will occur without deploying the current technology).
The report then suggests that transmission lines needed to carry the wind to cities across the country are too expensive while simultaneously arguing that low natural gas prices will continue indefinitely (natural gas is a direct competitor to wind). This of course ignores that similar transmission capacity is required to carry natural gas from the horizontally fracked wells in the same western Kansas communities building so much wind.
The authors argue that wind energy costs more per kilowatt hour than conventional generation sources, then use data that conflicts with this argument. The authors suggest that wind farms require more land than similar coal or nuclear plants of the same capacity, but do not mention than land with wind farms can continue to be farmed while the land near coal and nuclear plants is not available any productive use.
To garner headlines, the report concludes by arguing that the state renewable portfolio standard will add 45% to monthly electric bills by 2020, lower employment and reduce investment in the state. It is not clear why the authors ignore the hundreds of millions invested by out-of-state utilities to build wind turbines and transmission lines in the state nor whether this investment will stop with repeal of the RPS.
Governor Sam Brownback successfully purged the state legislature of many moderate Republicans in the 2012 elections. Yet the Governor supports the RPS. The opposition comes from state Representative Forrest Knox, a conservative from Altoona well-known for his opposition to women's health care. Why is Knox opposed? Altoona is in the southeast corner of Kansas. Southeast Kansas has virtually non-existent wind resources. While the economic environment is similar to many western Kansas communities, there is no meaningful wind development.
Will the state of Kansas overturn a progressive RPS over an economic development battle between eastern and western parts of the state?