Kansans learned quickly this past week just how vulnerable the power grid is.
An unusually strong winter blast forced consumption rates of electricity, gas and water to skyrocket, forcing utility companies into rolling power outages, at the request of the Southwest Power Pool, the grid that covers 14 states primarily in the Great Plains, including Kansas.
51st District Rep. Ron Highland of Wamego joined KMAN Friday morning during his legislative update. He says it’s apparent energy companies can’t rely too much on renewable energy just yet.
“The wind turbines, when it gets really cold can’t turn, they turn off and the same is true when they get real hot. We have to be cognizant of that,” he said. “It was cloudy for an extended period of time, so the solar panels weren’t doing anything either.”
While it is true some wind turbines did freeze, failures in natural gas, coal and nuclear energy systems were responsible for nearly twice as many outages as renewables according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, in a Tuesday news conference.
Regardless, Highland believes the future is in nuclear energy, citing a recent trip he took a few years ago to a conference in Wyoming.
“We went over to the nuclear testing facility where all the world comes to test their ideas and we saw these miniature (reactors) that can fit onto a boxcar easily or a truck. The ones I’ve read about in the (Wall Street) Journal are even smaller than that and produce a great amount of electricity,” he said.
Highland also provided an update on a piece of legislation moving through the Kansas House, aimed at fixing some inefficiencies within the Kansas Department of Labor.
House Bill 2196 was introduced to the Commerce Committee Feb. 1. Highland says the bill, among other things, would establish a council.
“This council then will oversee the Department of Labor upgrades and development of the computer systems that need to be upgraded. This council will be organized to oversee that and place in the system the safeguards that we know we need,” he said.
The state has lost millions to fraudulent claims over the past several months, due to an overwhelming of the system during the pandemic and aging equipment that hasn’t been upgraded in decades. Highland says the another goal of the bill may be to remove the legislature’s ties to the department altogether.
“There are some ideas that include making it a standalone like the KPERS system, where there’s a board that oversees their activities and take it out of the political realm,” he said.
Highland says it may take a week to get through the entire process of working the bill. The Senate is also working on its own version of legislation, related to the Department of Labor.