Energy policy is one of those nerdy things that no one pays attention to until it starts to go wrong. And that’s where we stand today.
Electricity demand continues to rise, as documented by this report by the Energy Information Administration. And most of that electricity is generated by coal plants. This is bad, because burning coal causes climate change. Burning coal releases more pollutants than other fossil fuels, as well.
The advantage of coal is that the United States has a lot of it. We are, as people like to say, the Saudi Arabia of coal. Unfortunately, mining that coal is often disastrous for the local environment, and most of what remains unmined is the dirtiest sort of coal. Modern coal plants have all sorts of scrubbers and filters, but that pollution still has to go somewhere.
Which is why I’m sad to see that a proposed moratorium on new coal plants in Kansas is likely to fail. Governor Sebelius, while promoting energy conservation, is not taking the bolder step of blocking new coal plant construction, which means that there’s no pressure on the legislature to support a cooling-off period.
A pause like that would give time for the state to pursue a comprehensive energy plan.
International investors are looking for opportunities to produce wind power in Kansas, and we have a lot of wind to use. Building wind farms would generate revenue for rural economies and stabilize income for farmers whose land would be used. It would bring jobs to those areas, and that source of electricity could also attract industry.
Governor Sebelius has declared an intention to pursue an energy strategy in this term, and I hope it goes beyond subsidizing production of ethanol. Ethanol is nice, but it won’t change the curves in the EIA graph above. Promoting renewable energy would. So would nuclear power, which is an area that the legislature is pursuing, through property tax abatements on new power plants. While I’m not anti-nuclear, that leaves us with the still-serious problem of waste disposal.
Kansas utilities spend the least money per capita promoting energy efficiency; pushing the utilities to encourage efficiency would be a big step, as would encouraging municipalities to include energy efficiency in local building codes. Passing a net metering law would be a revenue-neutral way to promote renewable energy and rural economies. Offering low-interest loans to farmers and cooperatives that want to set up their own wind farms would do a lot of good as well. Rather than reducing property taxes, and putting utility customers on the hook for whatever new coal plants might cost, those policies could set Kansas on a path to energy independence, and prepare us for a post-petroleum economy.