Kansas wind energy faces obstacles despite gains

wind turbine

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Despite recent gains in wind energy production in Kansas, experts worry that trouble could be looming for the industry.

A recent report from the American Wind Energy Association says that pressures to eliminate production tax credits and to repeal the Kansas renewable energy standards threaten to slow future growth.

The report, released Thursday by AWEA, the industry trade group, found that Kansas has doubled its capacity to generate power from wind turbines in the past two years, the Lawrence Journal-World reported (http://bit.ly/1ewZPRV ). Such production accounts for nearly 20 percent of all electricity generated in Kansas, up from 11 percent in 2012.

“Wind energy development in Kansas has a full head of steam,” said Rod Freeman, chief executive officer of TradeWind Energy, a wind project developer.

But the report also found that the late extension of the federal tax credit for wind development in 2013 resulted in a 92 percent drop in completed projects nationwide. The credit expired at the end of 2013, and its future is uncertain.

Kansas legislators have also debated whether to repeal the state’s renewable energy standards, which require utilities to meet certain thresholds in energy generated from renewable sources, such as wind or solar.

Still, the report found that wind potential in Kansas was the second-best in the United States. It ranks seventh in installed wind capacity, third for percentage of energy derived from wind and sixth for wind-related jobs.

“Kansans overwhelmingly support a cleaner, more sustainable future when it comes to how we generate electricity in this country,” Freeman said.

A state Department of Commerce official said wind energy has been a leader in boosting the Kansas economy.

“Our state’s wind energy potential has led to investment and job creation all across Kansas,” said Randi Tveitaraas Jack, who manages the international business recruitment program for the department.

But some business groups, such as the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, have mounted campaigns to get legislators to repeal the energy standards, which were enacted in 2009.

The groups argue the market should dictate which sources of energy thrive, not state policy.

The standards inject “the government hand into the energy marketplace by stipulating the sources of our energy. There is no doubt this policy picks a winner and a loser,” said Jeff Glendening, Kansas state director for AFP.

Though an attempt to repeal the standards cleared the Senate, it met stiffer opposition in the House where rural interests said it helped diversify the economy and provide an additional source of income for farmers and ranchers, especially in times of drought.

Pete Ferrell, who developed one of the first wind farms in Kansas on his ranch in Elk County, said wind energy helped him survive the drought.

“The wind is my most drought resilient crop,” Ferrell said. Removing the standards “would send a terrible message to the general public about the value of renewables.”

Elizabeth Salerno, the energy association’s vice president of industry data and analysis, said tax credits and energy standards helped to bring jobs to Kansas, as well as providing lease payments for turbines in rural counties. She told the newspaper that developers would welcome restoration of the federal tax credit.

“New projects and research and development and all those forward-looking activities are somewhat inhibited right now or put on pause,” she said.

She counters claims about the preference given to renewable energy, noting that utilities have been regulated and are not a true free market. Policies are put in place support production of domestic power and encourage further development.

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Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, http://www.ljworld.com

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