August 11, 2013
Kansas, U.S.

Federal agency backs Kansas House proposal on power lines; Bill would create interstate compact to approve transmission lines

By Megan Hart | August 10, 2013 |

Rep. Tom Sloan hopes Kansas can be as successful in exporting wind as it has been in selling beef and corn.

Sloan introduced a proposal for Kansas to join an interstate compact to make it easier to build electricity transmission lines as House Bill 2101 in January. It passed the House 118 to 1, and was forwarded to the Senate in March. It never got out of the Senate utilities committee before the legislature adjourned.

David Moeller, of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, visited Lawrence to bolster the push of a compact Tuesday and spoke in support of Sloan’s bill, according to the Lawrence Journal-World. FERC doesn’t have the authority to regulate transmission lines, he said, so the states need to come up with their own way of getting power from energy-rich areas to the large cities clamoring for it.

Federal policies are encouraging a shift away from coal-fired plants, Sloan said, so Kansas has the potential to sell energy from its wind farms to large cities on the coasts. That process is slowed now because of states’ very different rules for approving transmission lines. Washington and North Dakota have introduced similar bills, but a compact wouldn’t be of practical value until contiguous states signed on, he said.

Kansas produces more wind energy than it can use in-state, Sloan said, particularly since he believes the state should use multiple types of energy to guard against disruptions in any one type.

“Exporting electricity is something we already do, and we should be exporting as much energy as we do wheat,” he said. “Kansas electricity should be able to go to California and New York City.”

Though transmission lines could transport electricity from any source, discussion has mostly centered on such renewable energy sources as wind and solar power, because those resources may be abundant in states with relatively low power needs. More than 20 percent of Kansas’s power is supplied by wind, ranking it third among states using wind power.

A report from the U.S. Department of Energy released Tuesday found Kansas had installed 1,441 megawatts of wind power capacity in 2012, bringing its total to 2,713 megawatts. Nationwide, wind power generated about 60 gigawatts of power at the end of 2012 – up 13 gigawatts from the previous year, and enough to power about 15 million homes based on average usage, the report said.

The bill would allow a company seeking to build transmission lines to file an application in a state that was a member of the compact for consideration by multiple members, instead of having to file a different application in each state where it wanted to build. All of the states where the company wanted to build then would send representatives to review the application. The federal government also could participate if the company wanted to build across federal land, as could recognized tribes if their land was on the route.

An initial review meeting, held within 90 days of the filing, would determine if the application was complete enough to proceed. A subsequent meeting, within 30 days, would consider the proposed route, the cost of the project and how well it served the country’s energy needs. The commission would have to reach a decision within 270 days of the initial filing.

Meetings would be subject to the the federal Sunshine Law and documents would fall under the Freedom of Information Act, though both have exemptions a commission could cite. A state could withdraw from the compact by repealing the law by which they joined it, but it wouldn’t be officially out until at least a year later, and possibly longer if a filing involving the withdrawing state is pending.

Sen. Pat Apple, R-Louisburg, chairs the utilities committee where the bill landed in March. He said the bill arrived close to the deadline for potential laws to exit the committees that studied them, so he decided to hold it over for the next legislative session in January. At that time, senators will study its merits and the public will have time to comment, he said.

“You don’t want to receive a bill one day and have a hearing the next day,” he said.

Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, said he voted against the bill to avoid locking Kansas into a compact it might later not want to be part of.

“We end up chipping away at our state sovereignty,” he said.

Rep. Dennis Hedke, R-Wichita, said members of the House were assured there would be no “material alterations” to Kansas’s rules for siting power lines. If Kansas were to pass a compact law, it wouldn’t go into effect until two other states signed on, he said.

“Whoever else would join would have to adhere to the very strong framework we’ve established here in Kansas,” he said.

Mark Lawlor, director of development for Clean Line Energy’s Grain Belt Express project, which would build a high-voltage transmission line across Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, said it would be helpful if companies could deal with one entity, though Clean Line is proceeding with the project under the current system.

Kansas has a clear procedure for determining if and where transmission lines may be built, Lawlor said, but Missouri doesn’t. If more states agreed to adopt the Kansas model, projects could move forward more quickly, he said.

“A compact like this would help string things together,” he said.

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