Kan. lawmakers lay out framework for creating new state energy plan

Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 5:10 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Kansas lawmakers are laying out the framework for creating a new statewide energy plan. The bill was in the works before last week when parts of the state saw rolling blackouts to stabilize the power grid. That has made the energy issue more visible.

Kansas is one of eight states nationwide that does not have a state energy plan in place, according to the National Association of State Energy Officials. An energy plan’s goal is how different resources can work together to prepare and meet future energy needs that are cost-effective and sustainable.

“I think it’s important that we have a state energy plan because in planning for the future, we need to have a concept of where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.” Representative John Carmichael (D-Wichita) said, “Also the folks who invest in energy resources need to know what that plan is so that they can make meaningful investments in wind and solar, even in natural gas because Kansas is uniquely situated to be one of the major energy producers in North America and that also yet petroleum, fossil fuels.”

Rep. Mark Schreiber, R- Emporia, started looking into how to form a statewide energy plan last fall, largely evaluating the plan Iowa developed.

“Iowa, and it kind of surprised me, I thought maybe it was about only renewables because they have a great wind resource there or maybe it’s on biofuels because of all the corn they grow. But what they did is they took it from an economic development perspective,” said Rep. Mark Schreiber (R-Emporia). “Not that those other pieces wouldn’t get spoken to, but they’re looking at a way to look at the trends that are coming in the energy field, whether it’s battery storage or maybe some other technology. Getting that into the state. Taking advantage of it for residents and businesses and so forth, but then also there are a number of large Fortune 500 companies that now have sustainability goals and if they see a state that is looking to capitalize on making sure they have the right energy mix for these large companies. Maybe we can get some of that operation in our state and create some long-term value for the state.”

Rep. Schreiber said he’s working with Topeka Democrat Rep. Annie Kuether on a bill currently before lawmakers. Tuesday, the bill was heard in the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee.

Some of the energy groups who testified Tuesday said Kansas lacks that cohesive energy strategy.

“We have not had an energy plan in Kansas for quite some time, and so when we develop energy policy, you might address an issue over here, you may try to address a crisis in another area, and you may develop another energy policy for something else, but before long, your energy policy begins to look uncoordinated, messy, and sometimes you look into it, and you’re not sure why things are there,” said David Nickel, the consumer counsel for Kansas CURB.

This idea has been in the works for some time, but Rep. Schreiber hopes the plan currently being discussed will get it done. The goal is to bring together the state’s energy policies and priorities into alignment.

“It’s hard to get everyone in the same room, so to speak and think comprehensively, and that’s what the idea of the task force is to get different parties together,” Schreiber said. “Each one is kind of operating in its own bubble, sorta speak, and what I’d like to do is try to have them come to the table and let’s talk about a comprehensive plan.”

HB 2381 doesn’t create the state’s energy plan but develops a task force charged with developing the plan for Kansas.

“I wanted to keep it about 25 total members or so, and there’s a lot of interests that aren’t represented directly.” Rep. Schreiber said, “If this gets passed and so forth, they will have all the access to the task force they’ll need to make sure we have that information.

The task force is made up of state leaders, utility providers, energy and environmental groups among others that will represent different interests in making and using energy.

One of those members will include Climate + Energy Project. Its Executive Director, Dorothy Barnett, said this has been one of the main priorities from their inception.

“We would have preferred to see some additional environmental and clean energy voices balance the scales (on the task force) of those voting members, but we recognize that you need to be able to have a group that is sized appropriately in order to get things done,” said Barnett.

Barnett said they’ll be working with those other groups to help represent their interests. CEP’s efforts force on advocating for renewables, energy efficiency programs and decarbonization.

With the resources in the state, Barnett said Kansas could continue to leverage its wind energy while there is room to grow on building up the state’s solar infrastructure.

“We do this work because we’re concerned about climate change and what it’s impacts are going to be on the state of Kansas. We know that we’re already seeing extreme weather events.” Barnett said, “We’re already seeing health impacts, but the other piece I think is a really important voice that we bring to the table is a voice that dogs not just about climate and not just about energy solutions or power solutions but really someone who can also take into consideration the equity. How are the changes that we’re making impacting people of color in our communities? How are the policy decisions that are being made impacting low to moderate-income Kansans’ pocketbook?”

She also said they also think the plan Iowa developed provides Kansas a good base.

“One of the plans that we think is well done is the Iowa State Energy Plan. There’s a couple of things about that plan we were really impressed with,” said Barnett. “One is the fact that they brought all voices to the table in different industries, so we know that this is a state energy plan, but it’s also sometimes our transportation plan. More and more, we’re going to see electric vehicles.”

Rep. Schreiber said one important thing about these plans is they’re not just about energy.

“This is not just about electricity rates or natural gas rates. We’re looking at transportation. We’re looking at the ag community as far as what they need as far as from energy. Even the Department of Defense is really interested in this plan because they have their own sustainability goals. Those will likely need to be met so that those forts, our forts here in the state can survive the next BRAC process,” said Rep. Schreiber. “I would have to lose a Fort Riley or a Fort McConnell or Fort Leavenworth because we didn’t think far enough in advanced to ensure that they had what they needed to meet their internal goals.”

Barnett said, “We also know that agriculture is a huge solution and a huge user of energy so having the Department of Labor as a member of the task force and their ability to talk about carbon farming or ways that agriculture can be a part of decarbonization of our economy is really key.”

Another value lawmakers said these plans have is by bringing in economic development and investments,

“We want Kansas to be open for business for the generation of electrical power, and having a state energy plan will encourage investment in that industry, which has a tremendous future for our state,” said Rep. Carmichael. “If we don’t take advantage though of the opportunity to become an energy hub, then some other state will fill that gap.”

Barnett said Iowa is a perfect example of that.

“Leverage additional federal dollars. Dollars that could be used for research and development or dollars that could be used for pilot projects. They were able to look at the plans, send that to whether it was the Department of Energy or HUD or other federal agencies and say we have a plan that we have large-scale buy-in across the state,” said Barnett.

She said this could also be seen more during the Biden administration as more focus is placed on clean energy.

Rep. Schreiber said he sees Kansas as a model for how natural gas, coal, wind and solar can all play a role together to meet the state’s energy needs in the future.

“They’ve all see the value of diversifying their generation sources and making sure that a transmission system that can deliver that power exists and is resilient,” said Rep. Schreiber.

The Emporia Republican added after the events of last week, Rep. Schreiber said he thinks that could fall into the task force’s preview.

“What the task for could look at is to see was it caused by a lack of diversity of resources or was it caused by a fear or reluctance to invest because these types of incidents don’t come along very often. Those types of things I think the plan could look at and see how that could be managed a little bit.” Rep. Schreiber said, “I don’t think the task force is looking to get into individual company’s utilities, industries own internal plans, but maybe the state could provide some guidance.”

If the bill to form the task force passes, it sets a timeline for creating a new state energy plan for Kansas by the end of January 2023.

Rep. Carmichael said, “This bill though is a meaningful attempt, and I think it will be a successful attempt to develop a task force that has a broad spectrum of members to develop a state energy plan, which I believe we desperately need. "

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