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Wind energy group drops $375K on Kansas airwaves, looks ahead to elections; American Wind Action isn’t backing candidates yet

A new national nonprofit group is spending $375,000 on advertising in Kansas over the next two months to make the case for wind energy production, a purchase that hints at future electoral influence.

American Wind Action, founded three months ago, already has a seven-figure budget. Its largest advertising purchase to date is in Kansas, where it will roll out television, radio and digital ads across the state in September and October.

“Wind is a resource Americans are eager for and are willing to buy,” said Jeff Clark, an industry executive and AWA board member.

Kansas lawmakers understand the “tremendous blessing” of wind energy in Kansas, he said.

Elsewhere in the country, Clark and the AWA have their eyes on elections. In Kansas, however, the group isn’t backing candidates yet, according to spokeswoman Gail Gitcho.

“AWA is a newly formed organization that has a primary focus on education – but we plan to increase the political strength,” she said.

Gitcho brings political heft to AWA. She was the communications director for 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney and press secretary for the Republican National Committee, among other influential roles on Capitol Hill.

AWA is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group. As such, it is required to spend most of its budget on education, though it can set aside some for electioneering. The AWA is not required to disclose its donors and doesn’t, but Gitcho said it is funded primarily by pro-wind companies.

In Iowa, AWA backed U.S. Rep. David Young this summer with an impressive $200,000 advertising campaign. Young, a freshman Republican, is in a competitive race against Democrat Jim Mowrer.

In Kansas, AWA’s television ad urges voters to “get behind public leaders who support wind energy in Kansas.”

A radio ad says, “It’s time we get behind the bipartisan leaders who support the expansion of wind energy.”

With a multi-million dollar budget and Gitcho’s prominence, AWA could play a significant role in future Kansas elections. But first, the group must make its pitch to voters.

“What we run into a lot is a public that doesn’t understand how wind energy works or how beneficial it is,” Clark said.

More than 20 percent of energy generated in Kansas comes from wind, according to federal statistics. Only Texas has a higher potential for wind power than Kansas, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates.

For years, debate over wind energy in Kansas has centered on renewable energy standards that required utility companies to obtain 20 percent of their power from renewable sources, such as wind. Last year, the Kansas Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback made the standards voluntary after attempts to repeal them entirely fell short of passage.

Renewable fuel standards are opposed by Americans for Prosperity and Koch Industries, which is involved in petroleum production.

“The RFS is harmful to consumers and is nothing more than a corporate welfare carve-out,” said Jeff Glendening, AFP’s state director in Kansas, during congressional testimony last year.

Clark and Gitcho declined to cite specific policy debates American Wind Action will involve itself in during the 2017 legislative session or near future. They are optimistic, however, in the prospects of wind energy here.

“Wind in Kansas has been a bipartisan success story and will continue to be in the foreseeable future,” Clark said.