Plans for the development of wind farms in western Kansas need the power lines Sunflower Energy Cooperative would have built.
The biggest loser inthe state’s decision to block construction of two coal-fired generating plants near Holcomb could be the industry that opponents of the plants say they want to support: wind farms.
Across western Kansas, at least seven – and possibly as many as 13 – proposed wind projects could be in jeopardy because their feasibility hinges on being able to access the new transmission lines that were part of the Sunflower Energy Cooperative’s plan for the new plants.
“I’d say this decision pretty much halts wind development in western Kansas,” said David Snyder, economic development director in Ness County, who said his county’s wind farm project is in doubt. “We need transmission lines, and we need the coal plants to get them.”
He said building transmission lines for wind alone is not economically feasible because of the erratic nature of wind generation and the expense of the lines. Building transmission lines costs about $1 million per mile.
“It’s bad enough that we face shortages in power and the loss of a sizable amount of money already invested in preparing for the construction of the plants, but now we could lose our wind project as well,” said Neal Gillespie, economic development director for Stevens County in far southwest Kansas.
Gillespie said he was surprised at the furor over selling power from the proposed plants out of state. That was one of the objections from opponents of the $3.6 billion Sunflower project.
“I was at an economic summit in Topeka a few years back where one of the key problems we talked about was how Kansas used to be an energy exporter and now we’ve become an importer,” Gillespie said.
“Out here we look at exporting as a good thing. In fact, most of western Kansas’ wind projects have been conceived as economic development with plans to export the energy.”
Randall Swisher, chief executive of the American Wind Energy Association, said that lack of transmission capacity is the biggest constraint facing the wind industry.
“We are very focused on this problem and how to solve it,” Swisher said.
He said some utilities and transmission providers are working on planning new lines.
Power giant Xcel, for example, plans to make much of its added generation through wind power, supported by a string of smaller, natural-gas fired plants.
Lawrence-based ITC Great Plains, a builder of transmission lines, already has approval to add a line from Spearville, near Dodge City, to Wichita. It might build more lines across the state.
At the legislative level, a tax incentive was passed to encourage transmission line construction. The law allows utilities to separate transmission rates from the rate base regulated by the Kansas Corporation Commission.
But Snyder, of Ness County, said the line being planned by ITC will do nothing for the region to the north of Dodge City or west of Spearville, where some of the best potential wind sites are located.
“We’ve got a lot of wind power companies interested in our potential,” Snyder said. “Then they find out that we’ve got 115 kilowatt lines with no capacity to add any power and the answer we get is, ‘When you get bigger lines, call us.’ ”
Other wind projects in western Kansas are being considered in Ford, Kiowa, Pratt, Thomas and Wichita counties. All of them would require additional transmission capacity.
Larry McCants, president of the First National Bank in Goodland and a leader in the Goodland Energy Park project, said wind is a component of that project. A larger wind farm in Sherman County near Goodland has also been proposed.
“Without the transmission lines and the baseload capacity that would come from the Holcomb project, our wind development really won’t happen,” McCants said.
By Phyllis Jacobs Griekspoor
The Wichita Eagle
11 November 2007
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