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Archive for Thursday, August 28, 2003

Officials tell Moran power grid ‘stretched’

August 28, 2003

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— A massive blackout like the recent one in the Northeast could happen in Kansas, but it's unlikely, several power industry officials told Rep. Jerry Moran.

Earl Watkins, executive vice president and general counsel for Hays-based Sunflower Energy, said the nation's eastern power grid was relatively successful but was stretched to its limit.

"It's a system that's designed to be elastic within certain parameters," Watkins said. "Right now, that elastic is stretched out about as far is it can go. But it's worked pretty well so far."

Watkins was among those discussing Kansas' power industry with Moran, R-Kan., on Tuesday.

Watkins said that in the mid-1990s, there were about 2,000 energy transfers between U.S. producers. By the late 1990s, there were 2 million transfers on the same system, causing the elasticity to "stretch."

Add the strain to an aging system -- many generators in Kansas are at least 20 years old -- and the climate is ripe for problems.

Yet the system has worked well overall, the officials said, and while it needs to be updated, there isn't a quick fix.

"The federal government has the reaction to take things over," said Bruce Graham, vice president for member services and external affairs at the Kansas Electric Power Cooperative Inc. "We would hope for some caution in that matter."

Moran also asked about the feasibility of producing wind power, both for the state and for exporting to the nation.

Industry officials said wind should not be counted on as a primary source of power.

"We need to be careful with wind," said Steve Ferry, operating vice president for Aquila Inc.'s Kansas electric operations. "We need the resources. The transmission costs are huge, and the reliability is a problem. The wind doesn't always blow, and people don't realize that."

After the meeting, Moran said he would like to find ways to export wind energy out of the state as a backup for existing power production.

"It's important to have good transmission lines to transport wind power, not only in Kansas but elsewhere," he said. "It reinforces our commitment to using renewable fuel, and it's a way to bring economic development to rural areas."

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