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Farm interests want more input on power lines  

Farming interests want to change the process for approving construction of direct current power lines in Kansas to give landowners more input.

Kansas Farm Bureau and the chairwoman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee testified for a bill Friday that would require such power projects to undergo a review by the Kansas Electric Transmission Authority before it goes before the Kansas Corporation Commission.

Rep. Sharon Schwartz, R-Washington, said the bill was spurred by the KCC granting a “Certificate of Convenience” to a company called Clean Line Energy to build a DC line to carry wind energy eastward.

“The ground they were going across is prime farmland ground and the people that it’s affected didn’t know about it until basically Clean Line had been granted their Certificate of Convenience,” Schwartz said. “Obviously, I think if they had been granted some input, it might have made a difference.”

Schwartz said she understands the need for power transmission, but noted that the energy from the Clean Line project is to be shipped out of state and said the pillars that hold up the lines complicate work for farmers on whose land they fall.

That message elicited sympathy from some members of the House Energy and Environment Committee that heard the bill. Rep. Stephen Alford, R-Ulysses, said tilling and harvesting under the power pillars is frustrating.

“It’s really, really tough trying to farm around that with farm equipment,” Alford said.

The Clean Line project is still pending approval from Missouri, Indiana and Illinois, but if erected the lines would bring wind power from Kansas to high-population Mid-Atlantic states.

The 700-mile line is projected to spur $7 billion in wind energy projects, and Gov. Sam Brownback voiced support for it when the KCC approved the Kansas portion in 2011.

Michael White, manager of Topeka-based transmission-only utility company ITC Great Plains, said his company is “neutral” on the bill, but concerned that it doesn’t clearly define what types of transmission lines would be affected.

He also noted that some transmission projects are already reviewed by groups other than KETA, like the regional Southwest Power Pool. He suggested that those projects should get an exemption.

“If a DC project is thoroughly vetted at the SPP and approved for construction, any KETA review would simply be a duplication of effort, create additional costs to the project and potentially delay the project,” White said.

White also said the KCC already provides mechanisms for public input on transmission projects, and the utilities that propose the projects often do as well, in the form of open houses and town hall meetings.

Rep. Annie Kuether, D-Topeka, said members of the energy committee would benefit from more information about the current process for approving the lines before determining if another layer of regulation is necessary.

Kuether said she doesn’t know of any transmission projects in Kansas in which “every inch of the way hasn’t been before KETA” and officials from Clean Line have been in front of KETA “over and over and over again.”

“While it sounds great to add another layer to the process, I think Kansas is actually in good shape with how we do transmission with landowners,” Kuether said. “They’re under a microscope.”

Kuether said the Clean Line project was the first in her memory to kick up as much outcry.

Rep. Dennis Hedke, R-Wichita, agreed that there had been significant dissent.

“I know there was a lot of angst expressed by landowners, especially in northeast Kansas,” Hedke said.

Hedke, the chairman of the energy committee, said the panel will continue the hearing this week in the hopes of gaining more information on the current approval process.

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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