Lines could boost wind industry

Kansas has the realistic potential to see its wind power generation rise eight-fold — if regulations and infrastructure are put in place.

That was the prediction of Mark Lawlor, director of development for Clean Line Energy Partners, speaking Tuesday at the Kansas Energy Conference.

Clean Line, of Houston, is a private developer of high-voltage power lines.

Kansas wind farms now have the capacity to generate about 1,000 megawatts of electric power. Meeting the state's mandate for 20 percent of electricity to come from alternate sources by 2020 would require that to about double, Lawlor said.

Kansas is a natural exporter of wind-generated electricity, but exporting depends on high-voltage power lines, he said.

If the Southwest Power Pool, a group of utilities covering Kansas, Oklahoma and parts of seven other states, were to adopt a 20 percent mandate, Kansas would probably have to double that production again, he said. That's because Kansas would produce wind energy more cheaply than other states in the power pool, such as Arkansas or Missouri, so those utilities would likely buy Kansas wind energy.

The Southwest Power Pool recently approved building high-voltage lines through western Kansas and will spread the cost across all of the ratepayers in its region.

But, Lawlor said, other regional power organizations are unlikely to ask their ratepayers to fund high voltage lines to transmit power that all customers won't benefit from.

That's where Clean Line comes in.

If the federal government adopts a nationwide 20 percent mandate, which is politically possible considering its bipartisan support, more high-voltage power lines would have to be built in the Midwest to transmit the power.

Lawlor's company is proposing to build several privately owned DC-power lines, including one from Spearville to the St. Louis area, dubbed the Grain Belt Express.

"It would cost in the billions, with a 'B,' " he said.

With an export market open, wind farm developers would likely build at least 8,000 megawatts in wind farms, he said.