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Archive for Saturday, December 13, 2008

Rivals continue fight over power lines in SW Kansas

December 13, 2008

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— Two companies seeking the right to build ultra high-voltage transmission lines in southern Kansas continued to joust over the issue Friday, even as Westar Energy Inc. offered a compromise.

Westar, a partner in Prairie Wind Transmission LLC, issued a news release Friday morning saying it had filed a “compromise proposal” with state regulators to build the 765-kilovolt transmission lines.

The proposal envisions Prairie Wind splitting the job with ITC Great Plains, a Topeka-based subsidiary of a Michigan transmission company. The two have battled before the Kansas Corporation Commission for much of this year over who will get to build transmission lines between Wichita and the Oklahoma border.

ITC spokeswoman Kimberly Gencur Svaty said Friday afternoon there was no agreement between the companies and ITC hadn’t seen the proposal before receiving the news release. Svaty also said the proposal addresses projects beyond the key route between Wichita and Medicine Lodge that has been at the center of the fight.

“We are pleased that they’re at least willing to engage in a conversation now,” Svaty said. “But we’d like to see the conversation focused on the project at hand.”

Westar spokeswoman Karla Olsen acknowledged that the plan was just a proposal but said the company thought it should file the plan with the KCC to keep the regulators informed.

“We are offering a compromise proposal hoping that if it is accepted by ITC Great Plains that the whole process will move forward,” Olsen said. “As a regulated company, you want to be transparent to your regulatory body.”

Extreme upgrade

Both companies contemplate lines of up to 765 kilovolts, larger than anything in the region — or most of the country. The new lines could carry up to six times as much electricity as the biggest existing lines in the area.

The developers argue that their proposals are a step toward a necessary upgrading of the region’s transmission system. Officials and environmentalists also believe new lines are needed to move wind power from sparsely populated areas to where customers live — and perhaps across the nation.

ITC announced its plans first, in July 2007, and hopes to have its lines up in 2011. Westar and its partners announced in May that they had formed Prairie Wind Transmission to build high-voltage lines by 2013.

ITC is a subsidiary of ITC Holdings Corp., based in Novi, Mich. It has transmission lines mostly in Michigan but also Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri.

Its V-shaped, 180-mile route would drop from the Wichita area, through Medicine Lodge to the Kansas-Oklahoma border, then run up to the Dodge City area.

In Prairie Wind, Westar is involved with subsidiaries of American Electric Power, based in Columbus, Ohio, and MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., of Des Moines, Iowa. MidAmerican is a unit of billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s Omaha, Neb.-based Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Prairie Wind envisions a 230-mile, Y-shaped track. The first part would be from Wichita to Medicine Lodge; from there, separate legs would go to the border and to Dodge City.

Under the compromise proposal, Prairie Wind would build a 175-mile line between Wichita and Liberal and then extend it 25 miles from Medicine Lodge to the Oklahoma border.

ITC’s line would go 35 miles from the intersection of Clark, Comanche and Kiowa counties to Spearville and then 145 miles north to the Nebraska border.

“Here’s an opportunity for everyone to accomplish what they want to accomplish,” Olsen said.

Independent efforts

But Svaty said ITC already has laid much of the groundwork for the line to Nebraska and that doesn’t require a deal with Prairie Wind to get built. She also said parts of the proposal — such as the route between Wichita and Liberal — have not been studied by the Southwestern Power Pool, an organization designated by federal officials to oversee the electric grid in the area.

“We have committed to following the Southwestern Power Pool process and we’d ask Prairie Wind to do the same in the development of their plan,” she said.

Svaty added that ITC offered a compromise in September where Prairie Wind would build 60 miles of the 180-mile route between Wichita and Medicine Lodge.

Westar refused the offer, Olsen said, “because our partners are the only ones with the experience to do that kind of line.”

Cost for the project has been estimated at $2.2 million per mile.

The KCC has been reviewing the competing proposals and said it might not pick a winning bidder until late next year. That has angered state legislators and industry officials who said that was too slow.

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