It seems the time is ripe for Kansas to advance proposals for alternative energy sources.
A proposal to build a complex of three coal-fired electric plants near Holcomb has received a less-than-enthusiastic response in many parts of the state. Although the plants would be an economic boon to southwest Kansas, many are concerned about the statewide environmental impact of the operation which would send 90 percent of the power it generates to other states.
The permit application for the Holcomb plants is pending and may or may not be approved, but the project has spurred renewed interest in other ways to generate electricity, especially harnessing the state's abundant supply of wind.
A major focus of expanding wind-generated electricity in the state has to be construction of transmission lines that would carry the electricity to population centers where it would be consumed. While Kansas has been rated as one of the top states in the nation in terms of wind-power potential, there are relatively few good areas for wind farms that are located near existing transmission lines.
In fact, one selling point Sunflower Electric Power Corp. used for its Holcomb plants is that the project would include construction of transmission lines that also could carry wind-generated power. The state budget proposed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius also includes $1 million "to spur the construction of an electric transmission line to carry wind-generated electricity." Presumably this funding wouldn't be used to build a state-owned transmission line but to provide some kind of incentive for private businesses to invest in such projects.
Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson and Ken Frahm, co-chairmen of the Kansas Energy Council, appeared before the House Energy and Utilities Committee this week not only to promote alternative energy efforts but to point out the importance of encouraging energy conservation. Frahm told the committee that conservation alone could eliminate the need for any new electrical plants in Kansas right now.
Encouraging conservation certainly is part of the picture and could allow the state to stretch its energy resources. However, it's unlikely that, even with conservation incentives, the demand for energy will decline in Kansas or anywhere else. The availability of energy in Kansas, in fact, has been a significant selling point for businesses interested in locating here.
Maintaining strong energy resources will take a multipronged approach and some creative effort. It's good for the state to try to be at the forefront of developing renewable energy options such as wind power and biofuels.