Archive for Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Leaders hope summit fuels energy efforts

Lawrence conference to focus on electricity prices, wind power

August 25, 2004

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The federal government's top energy regulator will be in Lawrence next month for a conference that will focus on ways to lower electricity bills and increase wind energy production.

Pat Wood III, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, will speak at the Kansas Electric Transmission Summit II on Sept. 8 at the Dole Institute of Politics on Kansas University's west campus.

It will mark the second time in the past two years Wood -- whose agency regulates the country's network of pipelines and power grids that carry electricity, natural gas and oil -- has been in Lawrence. He attended the first Kansas Electric Transmission Summit in June 2003.

"He's returning because Kansas is like a poster child to him," said Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, who organized both conferences. "When he was out here a year ago, he said there was no state working harder to solve its electric problems."

State legislators, regional utility executives and Kansas Corporation Commission members are expected to attend the event and discuss ways the electric industry can better produce and distribute power.

Sloan said the summit would focus on how new electric transmission lines could connect eastern and western Kansas. He said western Kansas residents were experiencing high electricity costs, largely because most of the area's electricity is produced by power plants fueled by increasingly pricey natural gas.

Eastern Kansas has several coal-powered plants and one nuclear-powered plant that could provide cheaper electricity if the transmission lines to carry the power were in place.

Donna Johnson, president of Lawrence-based Pinnacle Technology, said the lack of transmission lines was a "huge hurdle" for the wind energy industry.

"In western Kansas there is so much wind and the landowners and the counties are basically welcoming the developers," Johnson said. "The problem is, what do you do with the power?"

If new transmission systems were built, it could create economic development opportunities for the state.

"For years, Kansas was a net exporter of energy. We actually made money from the sale of energy," Johnson said. "Now we import more of it than we produce. It is now costing the state money, but we can change that."

Sloan said the state of Wyoming has set aside $10 billion to improve its transmission system. Sloan wants the effort to be funded by private industry in Kansas.

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