March 4, 2024

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‘Energy Choice Act’ would prevent cities from banning natural gas

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Concerned about movements in places like Berkeley, California, Seattle, and — ironically — Lawrence, to either ban natural gas in new buildings or to move to “carbon-free” sources, the Kansas Senate recently passed Senate Bill 24, the “Energy Choice Act,” which would prevent local municipalities from banning the use of Natural Gas.  The bill passed by a vote of 27-10, with three senators absent,

Arizona, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Louisiana have all passed similar laws and another four states have considered similar legislation.

Lawrence has not passed such a ban — technically — but the city has passed an ordinance that calls for a move to “carbon-free” energy sources by 2035. 

The Sunflower State Journal reports that Lawrence officials have said that natural gas wouldn’t qualify as “carbon-free” because of its emissions — which are less than half of petroleum or coal — and “environmental impacts,” but would allow “landfill methane.”
The problem is that landfill methane isn’t actually methane. Where natural gas is generally between 80% and 99% methane, landfill gas is somewhere between 40% and 60% and can contain toxic chemicals such as dioxins, meaning it non only contains — pound for pound — less energy than conventional natural gas, it is also a much dirtier source of energy as the main combustion products of conventional natural gas are carbon dioxide and water vapor.

Senator Mike Thompson, who chairs the Senate Utilities Committee, spearheaded the debate and carried SB 24 on the Senate floor. 

“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. This poses a growing threat to the  870,000 households in Kansas who use natural gas and rely on it to heat their homes and water, cook  meals for their families, and many other uses,” Thompson said in a release. “Natural gas is the cheapest form of energy, and its continued availability is essential to those on lower and fixed incomes.  We cannot let the movement against this critical energy source gain a foothold in Kansas.”  

In a joint press release, Republican Senators Ty Masterson, Gene Sullentrop, and Rick Wilborn noted that the Energy Choice Act would primarily benefit lower income residents and those on fixed incomes.

“With the economic climate uncertain at best, the people of Kansas deserve certainty regarding  their daily expenses,” the release said.

At a hearing on the bill, Black Hills Energy General Manager Jerry Watkins said elimination of gas as a choice for heating and cooking would result in a dramatic increase in costs for homeowners.

“The average household would see their energy costs increase by 50% if natural gas was eliminated,” Watkins said. “This does not include costs associated with upgrading of appliances, upgrading the electrical panels and wiring or appliance replacement.”

The bill only applies to regulations from municipalities, and would not prevent individuals from making the choice to go all electric within their own homes, nor would it prevent cities and counties from doing so in municipally-owned buildings. 

Thompson said in the hearing that creating a “patchwork” of energy regulations within the state could create chaos.

“I think it’s important that we not restrict the ability to use an energy source in the state of Kansas,” Thompson said. “We don’t want to circumvent home rule, but in this case it’s incumbent upon the state to make a uniform rule. If you start down that path, you’re going to run businesses out of some communities toward other communities where natural gas is available.”

The Energy Choice Act is set for a hearing in the Kansas House of Representatives at 9 a.m. March 16.

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