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Legislators: Fight over wind-power standard not over

A state representative and a senator told a Wichita Republican audience Friday that they think they’ll have more success next year in repealing a law that requires Kansas public utilities to get some of their power from wind.

Rep. Steve Brunk and Sen. Michael O’Donnell, both Wichita Republicans, told the Pachyderm Club that they think the repeal effort will go better in the next legislative session than the last one, when it blew through the Senate but failed in the House.

“We’ll see who gets elected and how that makeup is and we’ll do a better job of working that through the House,” said Brunk. “Last (session) we had some assumptions that people would naturally be on board with that and when it actually came time to vote they weren’t.”

At issue is a state law requiring that by the year 2020, major Kansas utilities get 20 percent of the power they sell from renewable energy sources. In Kansas, that is almost entirely wind energy.

The requirement, known as the “renewable portfolio standard,” or RPS, was the result of a bipartisan bargain in 2009 that was supposed to clear the way for a major expansion of a coal-fired power plant near Holcomb in western Kansas.

Republican leaders wanted the coal plant, and Democrats, especially newly inaugurated Gov. Mark Parkinson, wanted wind standards.

The wind standard took effect and sparked a major boom in wind-energy farms. Westar Energy, the state’s dominant power company, has already built or contracted for getting 19 percent of its power from wind. But despite state approval, the Holcomb coal plant hasn’t been built because of federal environmental regulations, industry doubts over the future of coal power and financing issues.

“We fulfilled our part of the bargain and they reneged on their part of the bargain and then we’re stuck with the standards,” Brunk said. He said Republicans like him don’t oppose wind power, per se, but think it should be able to stand on its own without help from the government.

Gov. Sam Brownback recently switched his position on the issue to favor negotiations toward repeal.

Both Brunk and O’Donnell said the key to repeal is electing more conservative Republicans in urban centers, especially Wichita, to outnumber the coalition of Democrats and moderate and rural Republicans that turned back repeal last session.

“The Senate, led by the strongest woman in Kansas, Wichitan Susan Wagle, we voted (to approve) this repeal,” O’Donnell said. “We have work to do in the House this year.”

The next legislative session begins in January.