Key Kansas legislators want electric transmission lines built immediately

? Key legislators on Tuesday said they want electric transmission lines built in Kansas. Now.

The House Energy and Utilities Committee considered several bills aimed at accelerating decisions on transmission lines, and granting a state authority the ability to charge ratepayers to build its own lines.

“We’re fighting with other states to get transmission,” said committee chairman Rep. Carl Holmes, R-Liberal.

He said Oklahoma was moving faster in getting lines built, which would take away from building lines in Kansas that are needed to spur more wind energy development.

“Oklahoma is just going to run us over,” he said.

The main dispute is over the proposed construction in southern Kansas of the region’s highest voltage line.

Two companies are vying for the job, which would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Those companies are ITC Great Plains, a Topeka-based subsidiary of a Michigan transmission company, and Prairie Wind Transmission, which is a partnership led by Westar Energy, the largest electric utility in Kansas.

The Kansas Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities, has yet to pick a builder, but has urged both companies to reach a compromise within a year.

Some lawmakers, however, have grown impatient with the KCC.

House Bill 2012 would reduce from 120 days to 90 days the amount of time an appellate court would have to decide appeals from the KCC involving electric utility cases.

House Bill 2014 would grant the Kansas Electric Transmission Authority the power to charge fees on ratepayers if the authority builds its own transmission lines.

And House Bill 2017 would set a 240-day limit on some of the cases before the KCC.

“It is very much helpful to have identified timelines in which you can plan to go through a legal process,” Kimberly Gencur Svaty, a spokeswoman for ITC Great Plains, told the committee.

But the judiciary and KCC opposed the tighter deadlines.

Kansas Court of Appeals Chief Judge Gary Rulon spoke against HB 2012.

“It would reduce by 25 percent the time our court has to process the most complex and voluminous litigation that will come to our court,” Rulon said.

To show how complicated the electric cases are, Rulon brought a photograph of a rate case that showed stacks of legal briefs on top of a table. He said the outcomes of rate cases affect many Kansans and shouldn’t be hurried more than they already are.

Martha Coffman, an advisory counsel to the KCC, said the proposal was “unwarranted and can only result in less thorough review by the court on appeals.”

Don Low, director of the KCC’s utilities division, opposed setting the 240-day time limit on certain cases before the commission, saying the proposal would in some instances diminish “the commission’s ability to protect the public interest.”

The committee took no immediate action on the bills.