Kansas doesn’t have an energy plan. It needs one.

Kansans held a climate rally on WEALTH (Water, Energy, Air, Land, Transportation and Health) Day at the Kansas Capitol in February 2020. (Submitted by the Climate + Energy Project to Kansas Reflector)
Kansans held a climate rally on WEALTH (Water, Energy, Air, Land, Transportation and Health) Day at the Kansas Capitol in February 2020. (Submitted by the Climate + Energy Project to Kansas Reflector)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Dorothy Barnett is executive director of the Climate + Energy Project.

With 110,000 jobless Kansans, it’s more important than ever for policymakers and Gov. Laura Kelly to address rising electricity costs while also protecting our health and environment.

Technology has enabled homeowners and businesses to improve the efficiency of their electric systems to lower their utility costs and energy usage, but Kansas policies prevent too many people from taking advantage of these opportunities.

While our neighbors in other states enjoy a menu of options related to energy efficiency programs, solar panel installations on homes and businesses, and electric vehicle integration, Kansas has failed to advance policies that enable these choices. This hurts everyone who pays for electricity.

That’s why the Climate + Energy Project has long advocated for a state energy plan, ideally facilitated from the State Energy Office.

In more than 40 states, state energy plans have been created to capitalize on energy as a key resource and area of strategic importance to these states’ economies and economic development efforts. The rapidly changing energy sector is, and will continue to be, a challenge for policymakers if we don’t plan for its future now.

How is Kansas preparing to use our state’s sunshine resource? We have more sunny days here than in Florida, yet less than 1% of our energy is produced by the sun. We’ve made significant strides in integrating wind in our energy mix — what’s next?

What role does energy efficiency play in our energy future, especially as our Missouri neighbors capitalize on energy efficiency programs supported by their regulatory agency, while in Kansas, Evergy has not filed a new portfolio of efficiency programs for more than four years?

How can we expect to recruit and retain businesses when electricity prices have increased by more than 70% over a decade in some parts of the state?

There are definitely things we can do. The first step is to craft a plan.

A plan that prioritizes advanced energy and conservation would address energy supply and demand challenges, ensure more reliable and affordable energy, determine potential ways to minimize costs and maximize production benefits, while also supporting economic development.

Further, it would identify and design a pathway for a prosperous and resilient future using Kansas resources, infrastructure and workforce talent to promote economic competitiveness and a healthy environment. Simply put, this leads to job creation.

Energy use and generation are profoundly changing, and if we’re going to give Kansans the opportunity to take advantage of emerging technologies, have greater control over the cost of their electricity, and ensure we’re providing competitive energy options to schools, hospitals and businesses, we must embrace the rapidly changing energy transition.

Failure to plan for this change only weakens our economic competitiveness. Kansas can’t afford to keep playing defense on energy.

Earlier this year, in a study commissioned by the legislature, London Economics Inc. included the establishment of a state energy plan as one of the top priorities the state should embark on to help achieve regionally competitive electricity rates over time.

Over the past two years, the Climate + Energy Project has gathered information about state energy plans from national experts, including the Building Performance Association, Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance and the National Association of State Energy Officials.

We have met with experts who’ve created different plans to learn from their pitfalls and successes. We’ve shared information and received input from our environmental, clean energy, conservation, agriculture and faith partners, along with the Citizens Utility Ratepayer Board, to discuss and gather support for a Kansas energy plan.

We support a plan because we think it’s essential to review the studies commissioned by the Legislature to understand how our bills came to be the highest in the region over a decade.

And now it’s time to take action.

There is broad interest in a state energy plan for Kansas and potentially widespread divergence in the plan’s shape. That’s why the Legislature needs to commit to a robust stakeholder engagement process, including public comment. Ongoing engagement around implementation and measurements of success annually are necessary.

There’s no question that a wide-ranging collaboration among stakeholders to plan for our energy future is important. Sign up for our mailing list to stay up to date on opportunities to support a state energy plan.

We urge policymakers and the governor to waste no time convening stakeholders to begin the planning process.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. For information, including how to submit your own commentary, click here.