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Poll finds strong wind energy support in Kansas for renewable energy

1/24/2014

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Kansas voters overwhelmingly support the state's renewable energy mandate, a new poll commissioned by wind energy supporters has found.

The poll went on to show the support is so strong an overwhelming majority of the state's voters even would support increasing the amount of renewable energy required by utility providers and would be willing to pay extra for the electricity it produces.

Results of the poll were released Thursday in a conference call. The poll by North Star Research was requested by the Wind Coalition and the Kansas-based Climate and Energy Project.

While the poll found only a lukewarm outlook on the Kansas economy, support for renewable energy was overwhelming.

Nine of 10 Kansas voters are either strongly or somewhat supportive of using renewable energy, according to pollster Dan Judy. While renewable energy can include solar hydroelectric, geothermal, biomass and energy from waste, most of the electricity in Kansas comes primarily from wind.

Kansas has the second highest potential for producing electricity from wind, and is the highest for a state its size, according to Jeff Clark, executive director of the wind coalition.

Support for the lesser-known sources of renewable energy weren't so strong, but Judy said that's likely the result of knowing little about them.

The poll arrives just before the Kansas Legislature delves into the inner workings of 2009 legislation that set state standards for how much renewable energy must be included in utility company portfolios.

Legislative leaders have suggested the state should strip those requirements, which effectively would gut many of the trade-off provisions in an agreement struck by then Gov. Mark Parkinson, who brokered a deal that would let Hays-based Sunflower Electric move ahead with the construction of a second coal-fired power plant near Holcomb.

In exchange, Sunflower faced several requirements including a provision that Sunflower meet the 20-percent renewables threshold four years earlier than the 2020 deadline other utilities face.

The Holcomb project has been on hold as a result of a lawsuit, but just last week showed signs of moving ahead.

In the survey released Thursday, two-thirds of those polled said they would support boosting the requirement to 25 percent.

According to the survey, renewable energy can count on broad bipartisan support, and voters say they would be willing to reward legislators who support it.

Renewable energy was the most preferred solution -- with a 43 percent preference -- to the growing energy needs of Kansas in the next 10 years. Electricity from nuclear, coal or natural gas was a distant second at 19 percent, followed closely by increased efficiency at 18 percent.

Voters even said they'd be willing to pay another $1 or $2 a month for renewable energy, although support dropped off -- but still was favorable -- when the amount reached $5 a month.

Kimberly Svaty, the Wind Coalition's Kansas representative, said wind adds a fraction to the average cost of electricity. Her comments were borne out by the Kansas Corporation Commission.

Svaty said the average electric customer pays 9 cents for every kilowatt hour consumed. Electricity from renewable energy adds less than one-sixteenth of a penny to that cost.

The KCC's report said meeting the renewable standards amounts to less than 2 percent of the cost but supplies more than 10 percent of the generation capacity in the state.

In announcing the polling results, renewable energy supporters voiced concern about Kansas' efforts to do away with renewable standards at a time when other states, including Oklahoma and Nebraska, are striving to attract wind farms.

Clark said he's optimistic the federal wind tax credit will be extended later this year, and he's hopeful Kansas legislators will refrain from stripping the provision out of state law.

"We have more energy than we can use in Kansas and we ought to use it before we go elsewhere," he said.