When Westar officials visited the Journal-World recently, they brought a map of existing electricity transmission lines in the state. The heaviest concentration of lines logically is where population is most dense, in the eastern third of the state. Another major line runs from north to south through Finney County, where it intersects with a shorter line that goes west to the Colorado border and east to the large wind farm at Spearville.
But between Spearville and Wichita lies a transmission gap that is a major impediment to additional wind power development in the state. The need to close that gap is obvious, and the fact that plans to do just that took a major step forward this week is welcome news.
It’s called the Kansas V-Plan because the proposed line forms a V that runs from Spearville south to the Oklahoma border then back up to Wichita. At both points the double-circuit, 345-kilovolt line will be able to connect to other transmission lines that will carry power to customers across Kansas and into surrounding states. The new line is a critical piece of the state’s plans to capitalize on its wind power generation potential.
On Tuesday, plans to build the line and share the costs were approved by the Southwest Power Pool, which oversees transmission lines in a nine-state area. The line is a project of Westar Energy and Electric Transmission America but because it will hook into other lines and benefit a much broader area, the approved plan would spread the costs of building the line among the states that are members of the Southwest Power Pool. The plan now goes to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is expected to give it final approval.
Gov. Mark Parkinson, who is a huge fan of increased wind power in the state, has said completion of this transmission line is as important to the state’s economy as gaining National Cancer Center status for the Kansas University Medical Center or construction of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan. It is especially critical to the western part of the state, which desperately needs the economic boost that expanded wind power can provide. Wind is something that western Kansas has in abundance, but it does no good to produce electricity if it can’t be moved to consumers in more populous areas.
Because the wind, even in Kansas, is unpredictable, wind power has limitations as an energy source, but Westar’s strategic plan indicates that advances in the size and efficiency of wind turbines have increased confidence in wind energy’s future role in the state.
The hope of many is that wind power not only can be a source of clean, renewable energy for Kansas but can provide an important new export for the state. The new transmission line that moved toward approval this week is a big step toward that goal.