Western Kansas power line project would allow more wind energy

A group of regional electrical utilities on Tuesday approved a $356 million power line project for western Kansas that will allow further development of wind power in the state.

However, the line approved is smaller than the one Westar Energy and ITC Great Plains were seeking.

The Southwest Power Pool, an association of utilities in parts of nine states, including most of Kansas, approved construction of a 200-mile, double-circuit 345-kilovolt line between Spearville and Wichita.

Westar and Great Plains ITC will each build a portion of the line.

Wind energy proponents, including state and utility officials, say such heavy-duty transmission lines are critical to adding wind farms in western Kansas.

Kansas has the second-most wind of any state, according to a federal study, but western Kansas lacks the heavy transmission lines to carry that energy to the nation's population centers.

The project still has one key hurdle to cross. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must approve the power pool's new policy for allocating costs. The new plan would spread the cost of major transmission lines across all 5 million ratepayers in the power pool, rather than only those in Kansas.

Kansas isn't the only beneficiary. The power pool's board of directors also approved several other projects worth a total a total of $787 million in other parts of the region.

The federal commission is required to deliver its verdict in 60 days.

If the allocation plan is denied, the power pool's approval of the project is dead, said Emily Pennel, spokeswoman for the power pool.

Karla Olsen, spokeswoman for Westar, said the company is pleased at the approval, but believes the 765-kilovolt line would be better in the long run.

The 765-kilovolt line has about twice the capacity of the double-circuit 345-kilovolt line, she said, but it also is considerably more expensive. The cost of a 765-kilovolt line was estimated at $650 million.

She said that the power pool's decision is only tentative, at this point, and Westar can renew its request later.

"If wind development is to be encouraged and go into the future, a higher voltage will be needed at some point," Olsen said.