Keep battling Koch Industries and its allies to deliver clean, renewable energy

05/23/2014 4:21 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

Supporters of the polluting and powerful fossil-fuel industry have a message for Kansans and others eager to improve how Americans consume energy: We are going to do everything possible to derail, delay and demean clean, renewable power.

It’s all part of a multibillion-dollar, self-interested scheme by groups including Koch Industries, Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council to keep people tethered to old-fashioned energy sources.

The organizations are systematically working in Kansas and other states to attack consumer-friendly laws, often called renewable energy standards.

These laws encourage electric utilities to supplement their use of fossil fuels with renewables — especially wind farms and solar power — to reduce air pollution from coal-fired power plants and to keep costs low.

Have you heard the threatening line that renewables are causing the price of electricity to skyrocket?

That’s not happening. But it is the main scare story being used in state after state to pressure legislators to jettison their renewable energy standards.

In spring, Kansas lawmakers said the state’s standard had caused rates to rise about 40 percent in recent years. Wrong. The Kansas Corporation Commission noted that the cost of the renewable mandate actually accounted for about 1/50th of the cost of a kilowatt hour.

So what was the prime driver behind the higher bills in Kansas? The cost of coal had gone up, and Kansas is addicted to the dirty fuel. It accounts for about 60 percent of the electricity generated in the state versus less than 40 percent for the nation.

Fortunately, repeated efforts to wipe out the Kansas law failed. So there is a limit to the power of the fossil fuel industry, even in the home state of the Koch brothers, Charles and David.

But the promoters say they will be back in the 2015 session, likely fronted by lawmakers espousing arguments to “let the free market work.” A Koch Industries spokesman recently trumpeted that argument, too, saying, “History shows that the free market...is a far better way to allocate resources.”

How disingenuous. The oil, coal and gas industries have been subsidized for decades by taxpayers, at far greater costs than the renewable industry has charged.

Fossil fuel companies have leveraged their tremendous wealth and power to repeatedly push back against governmental assistance for renewables while continuing to enjoy their own longtime, lucrative tax breaks.

Another fact: Wind power in Kansas — as Gov. Sam Brownback has repeatedly tried to point out to his less-enlightened Republican colleagues — has created thousands of jobs and produced new revenue for farmers and many businesses.

Indeed, the attack on renewables in the heart of America is a high-risk, high-reward project for Koch Industries and its allies. If they can persuade lawmakers to kill the standard in one of the nation’s windiest states, that would be a template for success elsewhere.

Promoters of clean and renewable energy must continue providing the positive facts about solar and wind power to the people of Kansas and to legislators often reluctant to base their decisions on facts.

To be sure, Kansans will count on coal and other fossil fuels to power their houses and keep them warm for decades to come. But Kansans also deserve a choice of using renewable sources that will lead to cleaner air and provide competition to tamp down future energy prices.

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