‘Renewables are dangerous’ and other wisdom from Kansas’ anti-climate caucus

February 22, 2021 3:33 am

Sen. Mike Thompson, R-Shawnee, pointed to last week’s rolling blackouts as an example for why “the expansion of renewables is dangerous for us going forward.” (Jan. 21, 2021, photo by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

How about that cold spell, Kansas?

Congrats on a nice display of civic-minded can-do-ism, folks — everyone bundling up and turning down their thermostats and waiting their turn at the rolling blackout. It’s almost as if we really are capable of sacrificing a little for the greater good, at least when the threat is not some invisible virus but air right outside the front door that could murder us in half an hour.

Just as predictable as the weather, now, is politicization of the weather. Since Kansas is no Texas, we were spared the embarrassment of a climate-change-denying governor raging against renewables on Fox News.

Instead, we have the D-list version: a climate-change-denying former TV chief meteorologist with new authority as chairman of the Kansas Senate’s Utilities committee.

“Right now, coal plants will be our savior in this frigid weather as they (and Wolf Creek nuclear plant) will be generating the load, along with natural gas. This is why the expansion of renewables is dangerous for us going forward,” Sen. Mike Thompson, R-Shawnee, wrote on his Facebook page last week. “We are putting to” — his typo, not mine — “much reliance on sources that cannot meet our needs, especially in times like this. It is insanity.”

Fact-checked by the Kansas City Star, where a representative from the regional energy transmission organization said wind actually did a little better than they’d expected, Thompson sulked. “Shame on me,” he wrote. “Anyone who knows me…knows that I try to be an accommodative guy. So, when a Kansas City Star reporter asked me for an interview about the power outages yesterday, I acquiesed” (his spelling). “I should have known they were just using it for a hit piece….again.”

For comfort, Thompson can turn to the warm embrace of Kansas Senate leaders, who celebrated him earlier this month for something he’d called the “Energy Choice Act.”

“In a strong, unified vote, Kansas Senate Republicans stood with Kansas families and small business owners by passing the Energy Choice Act, which preserves the right to use natural gas throughout Kansas,” Senate President Ty Masterson (Andover), Vice President Rick Wilborn (McPherson) and Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop (Wichita) said in a Feb. 4 news release noting that Thompson had “spearheaded the debate and carried SB24 on the Senate floor.”

According to these guys, “the freedom of energy choice is being undermined in many areas around the country, with governments seeking to limit or prohibit the use of natural gas.” The threat apparently stems from a movement in what Axios called “some climate-conscious cities” to ban natural-gas hook-ups in new apartments and commercial buildings.

Lest anyone think it’s creepy that conservatives are using the language of “choice” to tell local governments they can’t implement policies to discourage dirty energy, please remember that they’re not talking about a person’s body but rather utility companies.

Other politicians in the state’s anti-climate caucus include Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who has devoted some of the time we’re paying him for to complain to the president about halted construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, that lawsuit-bedeviled proposed river of Canadian crude oil that’s become a hill to die on for fossil-fuel-first politicians.

“Schmidt joined with attorneys general from 13 other states in sending a letter to the president to express their concern about Biden’s decision on his first day in office to issue an executive order canceling the project,” Schmidt’s office said earlier this month.

Schmidt and his fellow A.G.s had backup from D.C., where U.S. Sens. Jerry Moran and Roger Marshall had introduced legislation to re-authorize the pipeline’s construction.

“This project is expected to provide approximately 11,000 direct high-paying jobs and up to 60,000 indirect and direct jobs,” Moran, Marshall and other U.S. senators said in a news release, bravely citing statistics that had been flagged by Facebook’s fact-checkers.

“Both (pipeline owner) TC Energy and the (U.S.) State Department have said the majority of those jobs would be temporary,” Politifact noted. “A 2014 report found that the company would need only 50 employees to maintain the Keystone XL pipeline once it’s finished, 35 of them permanent. Temporary jobs are still jobs. But this post could leave the wrong impression without full context. We rate it Half True.”

And half-true is progress, when we’re talking about a couple of senators who participated to varying degrees in the Big Lie, but that’s another subject. Even if all that defense of unsustainable energy forms amounted to nothing but a load of manure, at least Kansas has experience burning that for heat.

Besides, we all learned something new: The Southwest Power Pool is not, it turns out, the place to get margaritas from the swim-up bar at spring break. And whatever spring break looks like this year, it can’t come soon enough.

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C.J. Janovy
C.J. Janovy

C.J. Janovy is a veteran journalist with deep roots in the Midwest. She was the Opinion Editor for the Kansas Reflector from launch unit l June 2021. Before joining the Reflector, she was an editor and reporter at Kansas City’s NPR affiliate, KCUR. Before that, she edited the city’s alt-weekly newspaper, The Pitch, where Janovy and her writers won numerous local, regional and national awards. Her book “No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas” was among the Kansas Notable Books of 2019.