2005 Kansas Legislative Update

Setting the Chapter’s Legislative Priorities: The Executive Committee (ExCom) of the Kansas Chapter of Sierra Club, primarily through its Legislative Committee (LegCom), sets the legislative priorities and goals of the Chapter in consultation with the Chapter’s legislative liaison, Charles Benjamin.  This legislative update is not a compendium of all legislation, affecting the Kansas environment introduced during the 2005 Kansas legislative session.  Instead, it focuses on specific legislation that the Chapter LegCom has decided it wants to promote or to defeat in order to further the conservation goals of the Kansas Chapter of Sierra Club.  The LegCom also sends out legislative alerts to the “Tree”.  The Tree is the Legislative Action Tree comprised of Sierra Club member volunteers who are willing to call their legislators in time of need.  The following describes general legislative conservation goals of the Chapter and specific pieces of legislation dealing with those goals, as of the time of this writing, March 11, 2005.

Energy Efficiency: The Chapter is strongly committed to more efficient uses of existing energy resources, no matter the source.  H.B. 2240 and H.B. 2084 focus on energy efficiency.

HB 2240 would require natural gas public utilities to spend 0.5% of their gross operating revenues on energy conservation improvements.  Electric public utilities that do not operate a nuclear-powered electric generating plant in Kansas would be required to spend 1.5% of their gross operating revenues on energy conservation improvements.  Electric public utilities that operate a nuclear power plant would be required to invest 2% of their gross operating revenue on conservation programs.  The bill would create an “energy and conservation fund” at the Kansas Corporation Commission to use for energy conservation programs targeted toward the needs of low-income persons and for energy conservation research and development projects.

H.B. 2084 empowers the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC) to allow electric and gas public utilities to recover utilities authorized rate of return on “prudent and reasonable” investments in energy efficiency and conservation programs for their residential and business customers so long as these investments are made as part of energy efficiency and conservation program that have received prior approval of the KCC.  Further, the KCC is authorized to develop a list of programs offered as energy efficiency and conservation programs currently offered by utilities and to consult with political subdivisions, nonprofits and community organizations and to review existing studies of exemplary energy efficiency and conservation programs conducted by other states, regulatory agencies, utilities and energy related organizations in creating new energy efficiency and conservation programs.

Renewable Energy: The Chapter is strongly committed to promoting the development of renewable energy resources in Kansas, especially wind energy in western Kansas.  However, the biggest obstacle to the development of wind resources in western Kansas is the limit on transmission capacity.  H.B. 2045, H.B. 2263 and S.B. 280 focus on promoting renewable energy.

H.B. 2045 allows a “regional transmission operator” to recover costs of upgrading existing transmission lines or constructing new transmission lines if a state agency, commission or council or other recognized body has determined that such construction or upgrade will provide “measurable economic benefits to electric consumers in all or part of Kansas that will exceed anticipated project costs”.

H.B. 2263 establishes the Kansas electric transmission authority to “further insure for reliable operation of the integrated electrical transmission system, diversify and expand the Kansas economy and facilitate the consumption of Kansas energy through improvements in the state’s electric transmission infrastructure.” The authority would be governed by a seven-member board of directors, five of whom are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate and two of whom are the chairs of the House and Senate utilities committees.  The transmission authority would be authorized to construct transmission lines in places where there is demand for such lines but the electric public utilities cannot or will not build them.  The authority would work with the Kansas development finance authority to seek bonding for such lines.  The bonds would be paid off by the proceeds received by the authority from those seeking access to such lines.

S.B. 280 provides for a $.013 state tax credit per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated by wind, biomass, solar, hydro or geothermal sources – only if and when the current $ .18 federal tax credit expires after 12/31/05.  S.B. 280 also enacts a $.005 tax credit for each kilowatt-hour of electricity generated by “community wind energy facilities” (with a rated production capacity of between 1 and 30 megawatts) – with or without renewal of federal tax credits.  Neither or these state tax credits would be available for any renewable energy facilities located in the “Heart of the Flint Hills” – an area bounded on the north by U.S. 24, on the east by K-99 and K-4, and on the west by K-77 – thus serving as a disincentive for large scale wind turbine projects in this region of the state.

State and local park funding and expansion.  The Chapter is strongly committed to public policy that adequately funds and expands state and local parks.  S.B. 87 and H.B. 2226 focus on state and local parks funding and expansion.

S.B. 87 provides for a $4 “outdoor recreation fee” on vehicle registrations with $3.20 dedicated to the state park fund and $ .80 dedicated to the “local government outdoor recreation grant program fund” with both funds housed with and disbursed by the state treasurer.  All funding for state parks from the state general fund would end, as would park entrance fees for Kansans, and all vehicles with a Kansas tag would be allowed free access to state parks.

H.B. 2226 would put serious obstacles to state acquisition of more park land, by willing sellers of land, by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP).  The original bill, opposed by KDWP and Sierra Club, would have required KDWP to seek the permission of county commissioners, subject to a local referendum, and state legislative approval, for acquisition of any future state park land, no matter what size.  An amended version of H.B. 2226 required state legislative approval of any state park acquisition greater than 480 acres, but eliminated the requirement of county commission approval subject to a local referendum.  This version of the bill, while less onerous than the original, is still opposed by KDWP and Sierra Club because it unnecessarily politicizes park acquisition.  Sierra Club opposed H.B. 2226.

by Charles Benjamin, Legislative Coordinator

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