Both the largest utility in Kansas and the newest utility in the state want to build the nation’s most electrified transmission line west of the Mississippi.
The two companies vying to build the “V” line through southwest Kansas – a new superhighway for electric transmission – made their cases Friday to the Kansas Electric Transmission Authority in Wichita.
The authority, which facilitates planning for the grid in Kansas, is waiting to see which company the Kansas Corporation Commission allows to build a line they hope will spur the continued rise of wind farms in western Kansas and help equalize electric rates for Kansans statewide.
The big ‘V’
With growing electricity demand and aging facilities, the nation’s transmission infrastructure is at a critical point, industry observers say.
At the same time, Americans and the government are calling for more renewable energy – particularly wind power.
Pressing issues for policymakers include how to pay for a new system of high-energy lines and where to build them to move the new generation of power from rural regions to the cities.
Kansas could be the first in the Midwest to see construction of a 765-kilovolt transmission line, noted Transmission Authority Chairman Carl Holmes, a legislator from Liberal.
“I think it’s significant,” he said at Friday’s meeting. “There’s a good chance the first 765-line west of the Mississippi River will be built in Kansas.”
The line could be erected as a “V,” from Spearville southeast into Barber County, then angling northeast into the Wichita area.
The first company to propose such a line was ITC Great Plains, a transmission-only utility. Their proposal stood alone for the last two years as it gained the blessing of the Southwest Power Pool, the regional transmission planning board for the middle section of the nation’s grid.
But in May, Westar Energy, the state’s largest electric utility, and two of the nation’s largest electric generation and transmission companies joined forces and intervened in ITC Great Plains’ bid to certify its project before the Kansas Corporation Commission, the state’s utility regulator.
The utilities sought a dismissal of ITC Great Plains’ plan. They proposed to build their own, similar project.
The KCC could rule on the landmark issue this summer.
On Friday, an executive with ITC, the Michigan parent company of ITC Great Plains, attended the transmission authority’s meeting, hoping to maintain support for their project.
“We’re asking officials that they not forget we were here two years ago,” said Edward Rahill, ITC senior vice president of finance, after the meeting.
The company sought to bring Westar on board as a partner, he said, but the company declined and instead sought its own partners and proposal.
The difference in the two plans, Rahill said, is ITC is a “purely transmission” company with no inclination toward any particular energy generation facilities.
“We have the best model, I think, because it’s an unbiased approach.”
Waiting on the KCC
Also at Friday’s meeting, Westar’s Executive Vice President Jim Ludwig told authority members the new venture, Prairie Wind Transmission LLC, would build the “V” line, but with a spur extending down to the Oklahoma-Kansas border in Comanche County, allowing for a connection into Oklahoma’s transmission network.
Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas are expected to see major development of wind farms in coming years, according to the Southwest Power Pool.
Kansas is slated to have more than 1,000 megawatts of wind energy generation capacity built by late this year. And a variety of wind energy companies now have some 35,000 proposed megawatts, mainly in the three-state region, awaiting the power pool’s approval for construction. Ludwig said the Prairie Wind plan wouldn’t be limited, but could also allow for more powerful transmission to eventually extend from Wichita northeast to the Wolf Creek nuclear plant in Coffey County.
Ludwig notes Prairie Wind has applied for utility status in Kansas. They are working to get Southwest Power Pool approval.
Holmes clarified after adjourning the meeting that the authority heard the two companies’ proposals only to monitor developments in Kansas.
“Our role is to facilitate development,” Holmes said. “I cannot show any preference as to who builds.”
The panel also heard ITC Great Plains’ update on plans for a second line from Spearville north into western Nebraska. The line, which has gained SPP approval, was originally proposed by the authority and ITC eventually sought to build it.
But Holmes is high on the fact that Kansas can be in the forefront of transmission.
The Kansas authority’s planning process has helped push along the Southwest Power Pool’s vision for the region, he said.
“Wind proposals now are two to three times more numerous in Texas and Oklahoma than they are in Kansas,” Holmes said. “If Kansas doesn’t develop the transmission, if Kansas doesn’t get out front, someone else will.”
By Sarah Kessinger
Harris News Service
29 June 2008
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