Expect renewable energy to generate discussion

12/7/2013

TOPEKA (AP) — Policies for promoting renewable energy will be on the Kansas Legislature's agenda next year, but a Democratic lawmaker and a key Republican senator gave dramatically different reasons Friday for why there should be a debate.

TOPEKA (AP) — Policies for promoting renewable energy will be on the Kansas Legislature's agenda next year, but a Democratic lawmaker and a key Republican senator gave dramatically different reasons Friday for why there should be a debate.

Sen. Marci Francisco, a Lawrence Democrat, said she and her allies will push for changes that would encourage more businesses, homeowners and nonprofit groups to install solar panels and other renewable energy technologies to lower or cancel out their electric bills. She said they'll also try to block attacks on a state law requiring utilities to have renewable sources such as wind provide 20 percent of their peak electric generating capacity by 2020.

Francisco said promoting renewable energy is a way to deal with climate changes linked to greenhouse gas emissions, such as those from coal-fired power plants. She had a Statehouse news conference with Rabbi Moti Rieber of Overland Park, who leads a coalition of 45 religious groups concerned about climate change, and Wayne White, a Jefferson County farmer who promotes sustainable agriculture and energy.

"Our climate is changing, and we need Kansas solutions to address it," she said.

Senate Utilities Committee Chairman Pat Apple, a Louisburg Republican, agreed that renewable energy policy will be an issue for lawmakers after they open their 2014 session Jan. 13. But, he said, he wants lawmakers to examine whether such policies are increasing electric rates, particularly for poor Kansans.

"We're going to focus this year on what's driving the cost of these electric rates," Apple said.

Francisco timed her news conference to the end of a three-day policy summit in Washington sponsored by the American Legislative Exchange Council, an association of conservative lawmakers and businesses that crafts model legislation for states. ALEC advocates that states repeal their renewable energy standards for utilities.

House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, and Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, are members of ALEC's board. Rieber said policies promoted by ALEC will "leave scars on our planet."

But Apple said, "We have to do what we can to make sure that we're not driving the rates up even further."

A key issue for Francisco and other environmentalists is "net metering." A 2009 law says that if a homeowner or business installs renewable energy technology and it generates more electricity than the consumer needs in a given month, the consumer will get a credit for the value of that extra power. But she and Rieber said it needs to be rewritten to expand the practice.

Apple said he is concerned about net metering because he believes poor Kansans can't afford to install the technology and will end up bearing a bigger share of a utility's operating costs through their rates.

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Online:

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at www.twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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