A Houston company proposing to build a 550-mile-long, high-voltage electric transmission line starting in Ford County and stretching to Missouri – and likely passing through Reno County – now has its case before the Kansas Corporation Commission.
The KCC already has received testimony on Clean Line’s request to be declared a Kansas public utility in order to build its “direct current” line, which the company is calling Grain Belt Express.
The commission expects to issue a decision by Dec. 22, said KCC spokesman Jesse Borjon.
The siting of the line itself, designating specifically where it would go, would be a separate case filed later with the KCC.
The private company has proposed building the 500- to 600-kilovolt line to take electricity generated by wind farms in western Kansas to markets in Missouri and farther east.
Energy buyers and sellers on each end of the line will ultimately pay for its construction – estimated at $1.7 billion, of which about $896 million would be spent in Kansas – so it would not directly impact Kansas ratepayers.
Allowing eminent domain
While the “public utility” designation is legally required for a company to own, operate or construct an electric transmission line in the state, it also gives the company the authority to use eminent domain in establishing its route. The company otherwise doesn’t have that power.
Under eminent domain, the company could legally take private property when agreement between the company and a landowner can’t be reached. The amount of compensation paid the landowner for the easement would be set by a court.
Concerns about the issue raised in Oklahoma have led to a delay in a decision on an application there. Officials at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission have tabled the request, although officials at Clean Line say a decision in that case is imminent.
For its application in Oklahoma, Clean Line submitted a proposed “Code of Conduct” for its right-of-way agents. A similar submission is included in the Kansas case.
The company also pledged to provide Oklahoma landowners with the option of annual payments for acquired right of way, and to allow landowners, in a dispute over the value of easements, the choice of binding arbitration or a judicial process.
Unlike a wind farm, where landowners receive regular payments, a transmission line typically entails a single upfront payment for an easement secured from the individual property owner.
“As a certificated utility, Clean Line will comply with all Kansas laws in approaching landowners and negotiating with them for rights of way,” the company stated in its application with the KCC. “Clean Line will treat and compensate landowners fairly for any easements necessary for the project.”
The eminent domain issue has not been raised during testimony in Kansas, though it’s unclear whether it might be in letters submitted to the KCC.
Nearly 100 letters of support for the line have been submitted, Clean Line officials said, including one from the Reno County Commission.
The Arkansas Public Service Commission in January denied a request by Clean Line to be considered a public utility in that state.
Plans for the lines wouldn’t allow customers in either Oklahoma or Arkansas to tap directly into the proposed $3.5 billion project as it goes through their states. According to press reports on the ruling, that was a factor influencing the Arkansas board’s decision.
Several other public utilities in Kansas have asked – and been allowed – to intervene in the case, according to filings posted on the KCC’s website. The intervention is primarily to ensure Clean Line has to follow the same rules they do, said a spokesman with one company.
“We don’t oppose the project,” said Leonard Allen, a spokesman for Westar Energy. “We think it’s a good project. Our intervention was to clear things up, to make sure it is done to SPP (Southwest Power Pool) standards. And we want to make sure it has no financial impact on Kansas customers.”
The KCC has also allowed the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayers Board, which represents the public in utility rate cases, to intervene.
CURB hasn’t taken a position on the project, said General Council David Springe “because this is probably a good project from my clients’ perspective, in that it increases wind in Kansas without really increasing utility rates.” It intervened in order to preserve its ability to object.
Clean Line will locate the western end of the Grain Belt Express near Spearville and build a $250 million DC converter station there. The eastern end will be located at an interconnection point to the east, most likely in St. Francois County in Missouri, connecting with the extra high-voltage transmission system operated by the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator.
In its application, Clean Line states development of the line would prompt $7 billion in new wind farm investments in southwest Kansas and the creation of more than 5,000 construction jobs and 500 operations jobs.
Clean Line has hired the Louis Berger Group Inc. to manage the routing, environmental permitting and public involvement processes in Kansas.
“LBG is already building a Geographic Information System database of sensitive environmental areas with threatened and endangered species habitat, critical wetlands, state and local parks, wildlife refuges, and important historical and archeological features, and will use the public involvement process to add to this reference tool to result in the best possible routing selection,” the company stated in its application.
If certified as a public utility, the company expects to file its siting application by early 2012, according to application documents.
The company previously stated it will hold open houses in communities affected by the possible routes closer to the siting process, and use feedback from the open houses to help determine a preferred route.
BUSY BUILDERS Other projects being developed by Clean Line Energy Partners: * The Plains & Eastern Clean Line project is an approximately 800-mile-long, high-voltage, DC-current transmission project that will connect up to 7,000 MW of wind generation resources in western Oklahoma, western Kansas and the northern panhandle of Texas, with areas of demand for renewable energy in the Tennessee Valley Authority, Arkansas and the southeastern U.S. * The Centennial West Clean Line transmission project, acquired earlier this year from Integrated Transmission Solutions LLC, will be an approximately 800-mile-long HVDC transmission project that will deliver up to 3,500 MW of electric power from New Mexico to southern Nevada or California. * The Rock Island Clean Line transmission project is an approximately 500-mile transmission line that will deliver up to 3,500 MW of electrici
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