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Kansas House rejects repeal of renewable energy standards

A bill designed to repeal renewable energy standards in Kansas failed to advance Friday after a tight House vote.

House members voted 63-60 against advancing a bill that would gradually end the state’s renewable portfolio standard, which requires the state’s utility companies to get 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020.

Its two main proponents, Rep. Dennis Hedke, R-Wichita, and Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, said the issue was effectively dead for the session.

An outright repeal of the energy standards failed to pass the House earlier in the session.

A compromise crafted Thursday would have allowed the state’s current 10 percent requirement to increase to 15 percent in 2016 and then cease to exist in 2021.

House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, called the proposal a “wonderful compromise” a few minutes before the House vote.

Proponents of ending renewable energy standards say the cost of clean energy will spike now that a federal subsidy for wind production has ended, and that will drive up electric bills.

Supporters of clean energy have repeatedly pointed to data from the Kansas Corporation Commission, which concluded renewable energy was responsible for less than 2 percent of rate increases.

Conservative activist group Americans for Prosperity, whose members filled the Capitol on Thursday, strongly pushed for the repeal.

“It doesn’t solve all the problems with the high electricity rates. The EPA has done its share of the damage, but this is something that the state can do,” Jeff Glendening, AFP’s Kansas director, said before the vote. “It’s a great business decision for the state. It’s a great decision for the ratepayers of Kansas.”

But Kimberly Svaty, policy director for the Wind Coalition, said wind production has brought $8 billion of new investment to the state and 13,000 new jobs. She said the standard contributed to that growth.

“I think the RPS has been a really good policy for the state of Kansas. And for three years we’ve been having this conversation. And for three years either the House or the Senate or both have voted down a policy to alter the RPS,” Svaty said. “It doesn’t cost the state any money, and it has created a lot of jobs and new investment.”

Hedke, chairman of the House Energy and Environment Committee, has been one of the strongest proponents of repeal. He said that it was a debate the House needed to have on Friday.

But several House members from both parties pushed back against what they saw as an effort to speed through a controversial policy at the end of the session.

Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, said the House had not had sufficient hearings on the issue to justify ending the standard and that it could be taken up next year.

Rep. Annie Kuether, D-Topeka, ranking minority member on the energy committee, was more emphatic about this point.

“It’s the final hour. We have important things to talk about, and we should not be wasting time on something that clearly the House has had a position on,” she said, referring to the chamber’s previous votes against repeal.

She said the bill has created jobs. “It sends a message to everybody worldwide that we’re open for business. Why do we want to shut that down?”

How they voted

Here’s how south-central Kansas lawmakers voted on a proposal to gradually end renewable energy standards. It was rejected 63-60.

Republicans voting yes: Steve Anthimides, Steve Brunk, Mario Goico, Daniel Hawkins, Dennis Hedke, Mark Hutton, Mark Kahrs, Les Osterman, Gene Suellentrop, Wichita; Will Carpenter, El Dorado; David Crum, Augusta; Pete DeGraaf, Mulvane; George “Joe” Edwards, Haysville; Kyle Hoffman, Coldwater; Jim Howell, Derby; Steve Huebert, Valley Center; Kasha Kelley, Arkansas City; Les Mason, McPherson; Virgil Peck, Tyro; Marc Rhoades, Newton; Jack Thimesch, Cunningham

Republicans voting no: Steven Becker, Buhler; Don Schroeder, Hesston; Joe Seiwert, Pretty Prairie

Democrats voting no: Carolyn Bridges, John Carmichael, Gail Finney, Roderick Houston, Tom Sawyer, Pat Sloop, Ponka-We Victors, Jim Ward, Brandon Whipple, Wichita; Jan Pauls, Hutchinson; Ed Trimmer, Winfield