KANSAS CITY — State government mandates requiring utilities to buy a certain portion of their power from renewable resources are coming under fire across the U.S., but so far legislatures have been able to turn back efforts to repeal them.
Industry observers believe Kansas came as close to any state to repealing the rules before the state House procedurally blocked — by just three votes — a repeal measure the Senate had supported.
Twenty-nine states have renewable energy mandates, The Kansas City Star reported, while bills weakening or repealing the requirements came up in at least nine of them, including Missouri and Kansas.
No states, even staunchly red ones like Kansas, have repealed the regulations requiring utilities to use renewable energies such as wind or solar for power. But well-funded conservative groups such as Americans for Prosperity continue to hammer away at the mandates, which they say increase costs for utilities and taxpayers.
"I can't think of an industry that is better connected politically in getting favors from the state and federal government than wind energy, ethanol and all the green energies," said Christine Harbin Hanson, national issues manager for the heavy-hitting AFP.
Kansas lawmakers for three years have refused to eliminate the mandate. The state ranks sixth in the amount of electricity generated by wind last year and is evolving into the epicenter of the national debate over energy standards.
"Folks on all sides are watching Kansas closely," said Kimberly Svaty, who lobbies for the wind industry.
AFP and the Kansas Senior Consumer Alliance — whose lobbyist was a former state AFP director — spent more than $300,000 trying to repeal the standards this legislative session. On the other side, the Wind Coalition and Wind Works for Kansas spent about $60,000.
Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick and Senate President Susan Wagle sit on the national board for the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which developed model legislation for repeal of the mandate. The state also is home to Koch Industries, which owns refining interests and opposes renewable energy requirements.
On the flip side of the debate, the state is home to 20 wind farms and a $7 billion capital investment. Landowners receive roughly $8 million a year in lease payments from those farms, the American Wind Energy Association said.
Those numbers have the attention of state Rep. Ron Ryckman Sr., a conservative Meade Republican whose county has four wind farms that paid southwest Kansas county governments a total of $1.2 million last year.
"Wind energy is very important to my district. They are generating a lot of money," Ryckman said. "It was a no-brainer for me to help protect the district."