Kansas Renewable Energy Policies Attacked

The Kansas legislature passed a bill to repeal the state’s renewable energy standard in May 2015. The bill was soon signed by Governor Sam Brownback. But while the bill eliminated the state’s official RES, targets for renewable electricity have already been met in the state, with wind energy producing over 20% of the state’s power.

The Koch Brothers and their political machine have tried to eliminate Kansas’ RES for the past four years, but failed every time. This year, anti-clean energy groups were only able to convert the state’s RES into a “voluntary goal,” and only after utilities exceeded the standard five years early.

These supposed free market and anti-tax groups were only able to achieve their goal because they worked with legislators to threaten passage of legislation that would apply an excise tax on the wind energy industry. The wind industry negotiated with the governor and legislators to stop the excise tax, in exchange for converting the renewable energy standard to a voluntary goal.

But before the negations were completed, anti-clean energy front groups with connections to fossil fuel interests spread misinformation to attack the RES. Heartland echoed a blog published by Bonner Cohen from the State Policy Network group, National Center for Public Policy Research. In the blog post, Cohen cites a report by the Utah State University Institute for Political Economy that produced debunked economic analysis attacking the RES. The Utah State University report was authored by Randy Simmons, who was the “Charles G. Koch Professor of Political Economy.” Simmons is also the co-founder of Strata, which is a public policy organization in Utah. He used inflated costs for renewable energy to claim a negative impact on ratepayers’ income and the state economy. Once corrected, the Utah State University study actually shows that renewable energy standards (and the increased use of wind energy) creates economic benefits.

Heartland also advocated against the Kansas renewable energy standard in a Washington Times op-ed, claiming that energy prices skyrocketed without providing any evidence. Data from a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory report showed that renewable energy standards have not caused electricity rates to increase more rapidly than those in states that do not have these standards. According to the Energy Information Administration, electricity prices increased an average of 3.2% between 2013 and 2014 while renewable energy standards have increased electricity rates by 2% or less in deregulated states and 3% or less in regulated states.

As of 2012, Kansas’s RES had increased electricity rates by less than 1%. Utilities in Kansas have asked for electricity rate hikes, not to pay for the RES, but because of their need to upgrade or retrofit coal fired power plants, and build new transmission capacity.

Energy & Policy Institute debunked the Heartland’s claims about “skyrocketing energy prices” last year. James Taylor claims that because electricity prices in Kansas have risen faster than the national average since 2009, the state’s RPS is causing a spike in electricity prices. But Taylor ignores the fact that electricity prices are changing based on a number of different factors.

Kansas_Electricity_GenerationIn reality, Kansas uses much less natural gas (see Kansas Electricity Profile Table 5) than the national average (see United States Electricity Profile Table 5), which likely impacted the faster rise in electricity prices over the past few years.

Since 2009, the low price of natural gas (as result of the fracking boom in the United States) led to decreased rise in electricity rates around in country — especially in states that use natural gas for electricity generation. The average residential price for natural gas dropped from $12.14 per thousand cubic feet in 2009 to $10.33 per thousand cubic feet in 2013, a decrease of 14.9%. The average price of natural gas for industrial and commercial use also dropped significantly.

U.S._Natural_Gas_PricesIn 2010, Kansas used natural gas for only 4.8% of electricity generated and coal for 67.8%. Nationwide, the electric power industry used natural gas for 23.9% of electricity generated, which explains, in part, why Kansas saw a more dramatic increase in electricity rates than the rest of the country. The low price of natural gas contributed to cheaper electricity prices, and states utilizing natural gas for electricity generation saw a smaller increase in electricity prices, at least in part because of the abundance of natural gas.

Heartland’s misinformation campaign and desperate efforts to repeal a state renewable energy standard did result in an unimportant “victory” that had little-to-no effect on renewable energy growth in the state of Kansas.