More federal guidance is needed if Kansas — and the rest of the country — is to build the transmission lines needed to carry wind energy and meet growing energy demands.
That was the message energy experts and state officials gave Tuesday at a conference in Lawrence.
“What we know from our experience here in Kansas is that no single state and no single utility has the resources to solve this problem,” Gov. Mark Parkinson said as he closed the all-day High Plains Regional Transmission Summit. “It is only going to be solved on a very large regional basis and ultimately on a national basis.”
More than 100 energy experts from across the state and country gathered at Macelli’s to discuss the need for building new transmission lines in the face of a changing energy landscape. The group was brought together by state Rep. Tom Sloan, a Lawrence Republican and an expert on energy policy.
The recent push for increasing renewable energy and cutting carbon emissions has led to a greater emphasis on wind energy.
“The wind industry is fundamentally changing the (energy) industry,” said Phil Moeller of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Midwest states, including Kansas, are a vital part of the country’s wind resource. But while 50 percent of the wind energy is developed in the region, 50 percent of the demand is in the eastern part of the country.
More high-voltage transmission lines and better connectivity among the different transmission lines across the country are needed to carry that power.
The challenge is true on a smaller scale in Kansas, where wind energy is being generated in the western part of the state and the majority of the population is located in the east. Transmission lines have little room left to move that energy across the state.
“Wind is in a bottleneck and will continue to be in a bottleneck until the gap is filled,” said Rep. Carl Holmes, R-Liberal, who is chairman of the Kansas Electric Transmission Authority.
Kansas has made progress in building more transmission lines. Earlier this year, a settlement was reached among utility companies allowing for a high-voltage transmission line to run through Kansas from Nebraska to Oklahoma.
Such projects are critical in the state’s progress toward building more renewable energy, Parkinson said.
“If we fail in this transmission work, in connecting western Kansas and eastern Kansas, there will literally be years of work that will be undone,” he said.
Still, questions remain on who will pay for building these high-powered, and expensive, transmission lines. What won’t work is the usual method of having the customers in the area where the transmission lines are built pay for them, Parkinson said.
“In order for us to reallocate those costs, we have to have regional cooperation, and ultimately the best scenario would be for a federal plan that would take over the entire system,” he said.
On the federal side, Moeller said it would help if his agency, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, had more power in siting where transmission lines go across state borders, just as it does with natural gas pipelines. And Moeller said the commission should give more direction on who pays for what as transmission lines are built.
For either of those things to happen, federal laws have to change.
“Can we live under the current system? Absolutely. Will we get a lot of transmission (lines) built? I don’t think so,” Moeller said.