TOPEKA, Kansas — Gov. Sam Brownback called Wednesday for a compromise between wind-power advocates and opponents of a renewable-energy law for Kansas utilities to settle the rule's future, but his office later said he wasn't proposing to phase out the policy.
Brownback faced questions about a 2009 state energy law during an impromptu meeting with Statehouse reporters. The policy requires utilities to have wind and other renewable sources account for 15 percent of their peak capacity for generating electricity by 2016 and 20 percent by 2020.
Supporters contend the law has spurred the development of a vibrant wind-energy industry without much cost to consumers. Critics argue it is driving up electric bills and that the government is picking economic winners and losers.
Brownback said he has "a lot of people pushing me" on the issue. He supports wind energy because of its strong potential on the frequently gusty Plains, but his political base includes free-market GOP conservatives who oppose such mandates.
"Get something agreed to between the wind people and the people who are opposed this," he said. "You've got to kind of get the big players to sit and half talk to each other."
Brownback, who served in the U.S. Senate before becoming governor in 2011, compared the state's requirement for utilities — known as the renewable portfolio standard, or RPS — to federal tax credits for ethanol production. He said ethanol credits were important to launching the industry but became unnecessary.
"RPS, you're in a similar position, I think," Brownback said. "You need a four-year phase-out."
But hours later, Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said in speaking of a phase-out, the governor intended to refer to federal energy production tax credits. She noted his comment that he supports wind energy because, "I'm a Kansan first."
"And this is really good for Kansas," the governor said. "This is a fabulous wind state."
The renewable-energy mandate has been targeted by the powerful Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, the anti-tax, small-government group with ties to billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch.
Lobbying reports show AFP's state chapter spent $383,000 from January through April on media advertising to build support for repealing the law, while two wind-energy advocacy groups spent about $57,000 on media and communications.
AFP State Director Jeff Glendening said critics of the renewable-energy rule sought this year to negotiate with the wind-energy industry but found no interest. He said both the requirement and federal tax credits are subsidies and, "Neither of them are free market ideas."
But he said of a potential compromise, "We are willing to sit down and listen."
Moti Rieber, an Overland Park rabbi and director of Kansas Interfaith Power & Light, said opponents of the renewable-energy rule negotiated with themselves this year, rather than involving wind-energy advocates. Rieber's group is a coalition of religious groups lobbying on environmental issues.
"If you repeal it or phase it out, what you're saying is, 'We're finished at 20 percent,'" Rieber said. "There's no reason to say that."
Americans for Prosperity's Kansas chapter: http://americansforprosperity.org/kansas/
Kansas Interfaith Power & Light: http://kansasipl.org/