Wind power complicates Kansas gubernatorial race
Wind power has become a boon for Kansas, but related political fighting has given Republican Gov. Sam Brownback headaches.
In 2013, wind power provided nearly 20 percent of Kansas’s energy, with the state being sixth in the United States in total wind energy and eighth in wind-energy capacity. However, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a conservative group backed by the Koch brothers that has a headquarters in Wichita, Kan., has objected to the federal tax credit that has helped sustain this boom.
The organization stated in a letter to Congress that wind power cannot stand on its own without government subsidies. Charles Koch has objected to government business subsidies on the grounds of cronyism. AFP and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce have fought against state standards requiring 10 percent of Kansas’ electricity come from renewable sources, a standard that will rise to 20 percent by 2020. Though this attempt failed, some Republicans have vowed to resume the fight next year.
This has made things politically difficult for Brownback, who is in a close race with Democrat Paul Davis, the Kansas House of Representatives minority leader. Brownback is politically allied to the Kochs and supports phasing out the federal renewable-energy tax credits, but at the same time has praised the growth of wind power in the state and said he supports a variety of generation methods.
If wind power continues growing, Kansas is the place for it. The Smoky Hills region alone has 150 wind turbines generating 250 megawatts of electricity. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Kansas alone could produce 3.1 million gigawatt hours annually — equivalent to three-quarters of the total electricity generated by all energy sources in the United States in 2013 — if its wind potential is fully harnessed. According to the United States Department of Energy, expanding Kansas’s wind power could provide an economic boon to the state.
In recent weeks, alternative energy has been a worldwide focus. President Barack Obama spoke before the United Nations this week, stressing the benefits of harnessing technology to help countries affected by climate change, building on his Climate Action Plan that includes “unprecedented efforts…to reduce carbon pollution, promote clean sources of energy that create jobs and protect American communities from the impacts of climate change.” Likewise, the National League of Cities held a meeting in the Midwest emphasizing local efforts to mitigate climate change.
A few quick facts about alternative energy:
1. In 2012, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions fell to the lowest in two decades, while since Obama took office, wind energy production has tripled and solar increased by a factor of 10.
2. General Electric has found that wind power can enhance grid resiliency in the event of a large-scale failure.
3. The U.S. Department of Energy states the U.S. has the world’s second-largest installed wind capacity providing 4.5 percent of the county’s energy needs and predicted “robust” growth in wind power in 2014 and 2015.
4. The United States is second only to China in terms of renewable energy investment and opportunities.