Kansas’ renewable portfolio standard is being challenged in the state legislature again this year.

It’s the fourth consecutive year that renewable-energy opponents such as Wichita-based Koch Industries and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce have attempted to downsize or eliminate the requirement that investor-owned utilities derive increasing proportions of their energy from renewable sources.

A 2009 law requires the state’s major utilities to obtain a steadily increasing proportion of their power from renewable sources. The law applies to 10 percent of power sold this year, 15 percent in the years 2016 through 2019, and 20 percent annually starting in 2020.

House Bill 2373,introduced by Rep. Ken Corbet, would eliminate the standard as of Jan. 1, 2016. A couple other states have taken similar action recently. Ohio’s legislature and governor last summer passed a bill that for two years freezes the state’s renewable and energy efficiency standards. Earlier this month (February), West Virginia’s legislature and governor became the first in the country to throw out the state’s renewable portfolio standard.

Kansas’ major utilities would actually likely meet the current standard, even if it were repealed, according to clean-energy advocates. They either already have met the 20 percent standard, or have committed to investments that will meet that standard by 2020.

“Practically, the utilities are not going to draw back on their clean energy” because of the bill, said Zack Pistora, who lobbies the Kansas Legislature on behalf of the Sierra Club. “They are not going to all of a sudden cancel their investments in power-purchase agreements, because that’s been economical for them.

“The key element here is that it’s removing our signal to Kansas, to the country and to businesses that Kansas values clean energy,” Pistora continued. “By us having that goal in statute, Kansas is saying, ‘We are open for business when it comes to clean energy. We want you to come to Kansas to invest.’ ”

Dorothy Barnett, executive director of Kansas’ Climate + Energy Project, said that the renewable energy standard already has helped Kansas meet the developing terms of the federal Clean Power Plan, and would continue to do so.

When it established carbon-reduction goals for each of the states, the Environmental Protection Agency settled on a relatively modest 20 percent for Kansas. And that goal, according to Barnett, is a direct result of the state’s renewable portfolio standard, and the substantial wind industry that has developed in recent years.

To meet the goal of the Clean Power Plan, Kansas and other states will have to prove to the federal government that they have the policy infrastructure to make further reductions.

“The language in the proposed EPA plan is ‘enforceable,’” Barnett said. “You have to have an enforceable rule.”

A renewable energy standard is such a rule, she said. An efficiency standard is another. Twenty-four states have “fully funded” efficiency requirements, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Kansas is not one of them.

“If we want to use (renewable energy) to get to the target, we can’t take that law away,” Barnett said. In fact, she said, meeting the Clean Energy Plan could entail increasing the renewable standard.

The EPA plan lists four strategies for decreasing carbon dioxide emissions: greater energy efficiency, more renewable energy, greater efficiency among fossil-fuel power plants and a shift to plants that are less carbon-intensive.

“The renewable portfolio standard is a key accountability tool in moving forward with the Clean Power Plan,” Pistora said. “If we want to increase renewables in order to decrease carbon emissions, we’re going to need something like the RPS – a performance benchmarking system – to allow us to say we’re increasing our renewable energy, and we’re going to keep increasing it.”

Barnett contends that a renewable standard serves the state in other ways.

“Companies are looking to locate in states where they can buy clean energy,” she said. “The RPS is one of the few signals we have. Taking that out of the toolbox is ridiculous.”

She characterizes the persistent annual drive to kill the Kansas standard not as a result of popular sentiment, but instead “a think-tank kind of push,” driven by Americans for Prosperity, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Policy Institute and the Koch brothers.

Neither legislators nor lobbyists supporting the bill to terminate the renewables standard responded to repeated requests for comment.

Barnett said she believes that, behind the drive to eliminate the renewable-energy standard is “a market-share issue. When wind was a small resource, it wasn’t an issue. As the renewable field gets a foothold, this becomes a ploy to protect the fossil fuel industry.”

She claims that the efforts to get rid of the renewables standard don’t reflect the views of most Kansans. The Climate + Energy Project partnered with Republican-affiliated North Star Opinion Research to conduct a survey in Kansas about a year ago and found that:

• 91 percent of Kansans strongly support renewable energy
• 73 percent of Republicans and 82 percent of Democrats endorse the renewable portfolio standard
• Two-thirds of respondents favor a more aggressive renewable energy standard, and would pay another $1 to $2 per month to carry it out.

“It’s what Kansans want,” she said.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated Dorothy Barnett’s title.

Karen spent most of her career reporting for the Kansas City Star, focusing at various times on local and regional news, and features. More recently, she was employed as a researcher and writer for a bioethics center at a children’s hospital in Kansas City. Karen covers Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

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