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Candidates agree: State energy may be due for change  

Republican Jim Barnett thinks hydrogen could be a major player in Kansas’ energy future.

Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius says the state should try incentives for contractors to build more energy-efficient housing.

The candidates in this fall’s governor’s race offer different ideas for future energy needs and generation in Kansas.

But both agree on Kansas’s current situation: The status quo must change.

Both say Kansas must seek to depend less on energy created outside the state. They say clean-burning energy should be a priority and agree that global warming is a concern.

Neither wants the state to follow a growing group of states that have mandated utility companies to add to their power supply a certain percentage of renewable energy such as wind, solar or bio-fuel.

And neither thinks the state should hinder development of new coal-fired generators in the state or new gas refineries as long as regulators say they meet federal emissions standards.

Barnett says the governor hasn’t been a leader when it comes to energy.

But Sebelius claims she’s had to help state government catch up after years of neglecting energy conservation and failing to develop markets for renewables – such as ethanol availability at the pump for Kansas drivers.

Free-market approach

Barnett, a state senator from Emporia, deems important the recent legislative efforts to promote bio-diesel processing plants through production tax credits. Expanding ethanol production, too, is key, he said.

“Kansas as a long-term goal should become a leader in renewable energy, production and exportation.”

If elected, Barnett, a physician whose college major was chemistry, said he’d also advocate for a new industry of hydrogen production facilities to supply a changing auto industry.

“Hydrogen, long term, is one of the ways our nation becomes independent and free of America’s dependence on foreign oil,” Barnett said.

With the natural gas supply waning in the state’s southwest Hugoton gas fields, the infrastructure of pipelines could be modified and converted for hydrogen, Barnett said.

He adds that he won’t spend time on the debate on addressing global warming, instead he’ll look to clean and renewable energy, particularly for western Kansas’ economy.

He is also concerned about mercury contamination resulting from power plant emissions.

“As a physician, I know pregnant women should not drink from many lakes in Kansas because of high mercury content. The leading cause is from coal-burning electricity plants,” Barnett said. “That’s another reason to turn to renewables.”

Mercury is a known potent neuro-toxin, he said.

The Sierra Club recently asked Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to put permits for new coal-fired plants on hold until a public commission could study their future effects on Kansas. The environmental group’s members say plant emissions will drift across the state.

The governor said Friday state and health environment regulators would determine whether the public was adequately protected.

While Barnett says government shouldn’t hinder private utility companies, he said he raised the issue of public health in northeast Kansas.

“I’m concerned about the prevailing winds carrying pollutants there,” he said. “We need to utilize the best technology we currently have available for production of energy, while not losing long-term focus on clean and renewable forms of energy.”

He disagreed with states that now require power companies to use at least some alternatives such as wind-generated electricity.

“I’m reluctant to say the answer is another mandate from government,” Barnett said. “I think a free-market system is what we need.”

As other forms of energy become more expensive, he said, wind will become more feasible and the shortfall of transmission lines will change.

To prepare for that time, he said, “I think the state needs to look at placement of more transmission lines. That’s where the free market will have to play a role. If Kansas can produce and export, there will be a way for lines to be paid for.”

‘Kansas is behind’

Sebelius wants to see new “community wind,” the small-scale wind farms that are owned by a local municipality.

Minnesota has done it, she noted, and Kansas can, too.

Renewable power can also mean economic development, she says, and a benefit to the state’s environment.

“All of us needs to be concerned about global warming and the greenhouse gases created,” she said. “We are certainly looking at all sorts of strategies on how we can educate folks but also begin to switch tactics. Looking at the way we generate electricity is one of those initiatives.”

A number of the concerns raised by the Sierra Club, Sebelius said, are those that the state health and environment department’s air quality regulators will be examining on a permit application by Sunflower Electric of Hays.

Sunflower seeks to build three new coal-fired generators in southwest Kansas.

“I think we have the right regulatory agency in place to work side by side with the EPA standards and take a look at that.”

“Having said that, I also think we need to move ahead on a whole variety of strategies that put us in a very different mindset for energy generation in the future.”

Sebelius said she was “totally committed” to develop an energy strategy when she took office for her first term in 2003.

“I realized that among the missing pieces in state government was any kind of energy plan, any kind of idea of how we were going to have affordable energy into the future, what our conservation strategy was going to be, did we have a conservation strategy with any sort of alternative energy look.”

She revived the Kansas Energy Council, which had gone by the wayside several years ago after the energy crisis of the late 1970s.

The 27-member group is charged with developing policy and is made up of state energy officials, experts, industry regulators, industry representatives, environmentalists, legislators and consumer advocates.

Sebelius also said she’s worked closely with the Kansas Corporation Commission, seeking to determine how a new system might be developed in the way Kansans are charged for electricity, natural gas and other power sources.

“Frankly, Kansas is behind on our whole framework for the pricing of energy and the way decisions are made about rates that are paid.”

The question, she said, is what is the cost to produce different forms of energy?

“The traditional cost is what has been measured for years and years and years. Whether we look at coal-fired plants, which certainly probably need a broader lens and more comprehensive approach including health costs and air pollution costs and emission costs, or wind generation, which may be more expensive in the short run but more environmentally and health friendly in the long run, we need a rating scheme that factors that in, but also a lot more education of consumers and a diversification of our portfolio.”

As for an expanded transmission system to help carry wind power from western Kansas toward the state’s eastern side, Sebelius says the new Kansas Transmission Authority is studying ways to create it.

However, she doesn’t think states should have to shoulder the burden alone. The federal government has done little, she said, to address the needs of the national power grid.

“I’m a little disheartened. It seems to be off the radar at the federal level,” the governor said.

But the state won’t stop looking for the means to get locally generated power to an “eager” national marketplace, she added.

“We are actively looking at ways to make Kansas an energy exporter again.”

By Sarah Kessinger

Harris News Service

kessinger@dailynews.net

hutchnews.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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