Kansas is blowing wind energy options, say advocates

Just how serious is Kansas about promoting wind energy?

Kansas has the second-best wind potential in the country, but advocates are increasingly concerned that the state is blowing a key reform that would make it easier for individuals, businesses and communities to produce wind power.

Over the years, a hodgepodge of requirements imposed by utilities has made hooking renewable-energy equipment, such as wind turbines, to the electric grid more difficult and expensive. States interested in boosting renewables have been replacing the mishmash with a simpler, easy-to-understand interconnection standard.

That appeared to be where Kansas was headed in a compromise overseen last year by Gov. Mark Parkinson. The plan included approval of a coal-fired power plant but also provisions to promote renewable energy, including making it easier to connect to the electric grid.

But many of the details were left for utility regulators to figure out later. And the Kansas Corporation Commission's staff has recommended leaving things up to each utility, rather than a uniform interconnection standard.

Although some thought Kansas City Power & Light supported the uniform standards, the utility says it agrees with the staff.

The staff recommendation was an unwelcome surprise to advocates.

"We're really taken aback," said Maril Hazlett, associate director of the Climate and Energy Project, a group based in Lawrence that promotes sustainable energy. The dispute comes as Kansas struggles to regain traction in wind energy. Although it has more potential wind energy than any state except Texas, Kansas fell from 11th to 14th in a recent ranking of the states' actual installed wind-generating capacity.

In contrast, Iowa, with far less potential than Kansas, is No. 2 in installed wind power. It is adopting interconnection standards and has aggressive requirements for how much renewable energy has to be produced in the state.

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