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A Question for Kansas

Will the Sunflower State Let Solar Flower?

Wind-swept, yes.

Sun-baked too.

Kansas is among the richest of American states when it comes to the two fast-growing electric energy sources in America and around the world.

But while wind generation is well planted in the state, the Sunflower state has paid scant attention to the sun’s energy rays bombarding its tabletop landscape day in, day out.

Earlier this month, I had occasion to bring this fact to the attention of more than 200 energy professionals from across Kansas, convened in Wichita at the annual Kansas Energy Conference put on by the administration of Gov. Sam Brownback. The state graciously asked me to deliver the opening keynote.

The Kansas Energy Conference


In a letter of greeting, the governor bragged, “The state has consistently ranked in the top three in the country for wind capacity installed.”

But there has been a near solar blackout.

I told the conference that Kansas was tied with West Virginia for the dubious distinction of having the fewest number of programs incenting renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives – just 11, according to a ranking compiled at North Carolina State University, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Kansas energy folks say the reason solar power is slow to take off in the state is that electricity is relatively cheap here.

I answered that head on, pointing out that the average price of retail power in the state is just over 11 cents a kilowatt hour – about 15 percent higher than Oregon.

Now I know quite a bit about Oregon as well as Kansas, having been a journalist in both those states for much of my career.

Surprise – it rains quite a bit in Oregon. And there is an abundance of cheap federal hydroelectric power flowing across the state, courtesy of the Columbia River. That river’s gorge is a funnel for winds – and abundant wind turbine installations have flowered across the river basin.

Despite the abundance of cheap power, Oregon leaders and citizens have wrapped their arms around solar energy – providing many incentives to make sure that it too gains a vibrant foothold.

The Beaver state has 109 renewable and efficiency programs – ten times the amount of Kansas, according to the state rankings.

Kansas for several years has been mired in huge and growing problems tied to the governor’s misguided efforts to slash state income taxes for the wealthy regardless of the consequences. In the process, it has become the target of widespread national ridicule for its zealous myopia.

Gov. Brownback, why not astound your critics and move boldly in a new direction and become the sunflower governor committed to solar in a big way?

Well, you might say, Oregon is painted blue while Kansas swings red.

But Sam, you need look no further than Texas, as bedrock conservative as any state in the nation. It is committed to deploy in the next few years solar generation equal to all of the solar power currently operational in the United States.

The state that elected George Bush and Rick Perry governor has 125 programs incenting renewables and energy efficiency.

Square that circle, Mr. Brownback.

It just might help you politically.

It certainly would help your state. 

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