Archive for Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Regulator says transmission is key to renewable energy in Kansas

August 6, 2013


One of the federal government's top energy officials said today that the new Bowersock Mills & Power Co. plant in north Lawrence the best example of an energy project that was partially funded with the federal stimulus program.

“It's clean, it's long-term, and it took a heck of a lot of effort to get it,” said Philip Moeller, one of five members on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, the agency that licensed the new plant. “Compared to a lot of other ones, this one's up and going, and will benefit the citizens for decades to come.”

But Moeller, along with state Rep. Tom Sloan, a Lawrence Republican, said producing renewable energy from plants like the Bowersock dam, or wind farms in western Kansas, is only part of the challenge facing the United States. The bigger challenge, they said, is building transmission systems that can carry that energy to the urban centers where it is most needed.

Cooperation needed

And that's a challenge, both men said, where state governments, rather than federal regulators, will have to play a leading role.

Philip D. Moeller, left, a commissioner with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission meets with Rep. Tom Sloan (R-Lawrence) at the new Bowersock power plant in North Lawrence. FERC played a key role in getting the new hydroelectric plant up and running. But Moeller and Sloan say more work needs to be done to develop renewable energy sources in the Midwest.

Philip D. Moeller, left, a commissioner with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission meets with Rep. Tom Sloan (R-Lawrence) at the new Bowersock power plant in North Lawrence. FERC played a key role in getting the new hydroelectric plant up and running. But Moeller and Sloan say more work needs to be done to develop renewable energy sources in the Midwest.

“That's an issue I'm working on,” Sloan said, while he and Moeller toured the new Bowersock generating plant this morning.

Sloan said he invited Moeller to Lawrence this week to meet informally with officials from other states, as well as utilities and transmission companies, to talk about ways to expand regional and national power grids that can move energy from wind farms in places like sparsely-populated western Kansas to the “load centers” where the need for more energy is the greatest.

“You have all that wind in western Kansas, and for years there was very little transmission between western Kansas and the load centers,” Moeller said. “It's not unique to Kansas. Where the wind blows, there's pretty much not a lot of energy load.”

Moeller said states will need to take the lead in developing transmission grids across state lines because, under current maze of federal energy laws, it's an area where FERC does not have jurisdiction.

While FERC has authority to regulate natural gas pipelines for environmental and safety issues, Moeller said, “We don't have that same authority on electric transmission. We thought we had limited authority out of the 2005 Energy Bill, but two federal courts struck that down based on some murky language.”

“So essentially the problem is, this is interstate commerce, so one state can either block or slow down a power line that benefits another state. That's a very inefficient, costly, risky process,” he said.

State vs. federal role

Sloan said he is working on legislation that would enable multiple states to join compacts in order to streamline the process of getting approval from multiple states for transmission projects that cross state lines.

Under his plan, if a transmission company wanted to build a power line that crosses through four states, then the project would be reviewed by a single panel with representatives from each of those states. Each state would still hold public hearings to receive comments and protests from citizens, but the hearings would be conducted on a single timeline.

The multi-state panel, then, would have authority to approve or deny the construction permit.

“So if (one state) said we don't see any advantage and we vote no, but the others vote yes, the line would go through,” Sloan said. “We're trying to get at the question that Mr. Moeller may not have jurisdiction over, which is, can you get a more regional and national focus on transmission construction.”

Sloan said his bill passed the Kansas House this year, but it was not taken up by the Senate before the session adjourned. But Sloan said he thinks the Senate will pass the bill during the 2014 session that begins in January.

But others, including Sarah Hill-Nelson, owner-operator of the Bowersock power plant, say it might be better simply to give FERC more authority over interstate transmission.

“If FERC had more control over the transmission, isn't that like the crux of the biscuit,” she asked. “We need someone to come in and put in Interstates.”


chicago95 4 years, 5 months ago

Not quite on topic, but... the aerial photo of the US40&59 bridges that accompanied this story reminded me of just how unlovely all of the main entrances to the city have become (often as a result of the city's growing past its old borders.) Aside from some aging low-profile concrete work, a few well-maintained plantings, and some flat steel signage, there is almost nothing that announces our pride-of-place to out-of-town visitors. What can be done? At one time, Stan Herd proposed placing one of his buffalos on a span over I-70 in Topeka. I wish we could collectively envision something on that scale -- not over I-70, but at least on the main approach to the city from each direction. The road work associated with K-10 and at 6th & Iowa (see seems like the perfect opportunity,

Lawrence Morgan 4 years, 5 months ago

A great idea!

But somehow it must include the many different aspects of Lawrence and Douglas county.

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

You can in fact set up a grid tie system in KS, with your own solar panels on your home.

kochmoney 4 years, 5 months ago

Yes, but they also have limits on exactly how many people can do this, so if it ever becomes popular, the power company can refuse to tie the system to the grid.

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

I didn't know that.

Are you sure?

Since they're a regulated utility, couldn't we make them expand that number?

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

I checked their website, and there's nothing there about limits on home generation.

Also, they have a possibly interesting program that lets customers buy renewable energy from them at very low rates - might be worth looking into.

Peacemaker452 4 years, 5 months ago

Jafs, The net metering law in Kansas allows the utilities to cap the power returned from customers to 1% of the peak load of the previous year. That may seem low but would equate to about 50 MW of power for Westar. That is a lot of rooftop solar and home wind turbines. BTW-Net metering in Kansas is only mandatory for investor owned utilities. Rural Electric Cooperatives and Municipal Utilities are not required to allow net metering.

Liberty275 4 years, 5 months ago

Generating power on your roof...

We have decided to grow our peppers and tomatoes hydroponically next year to cut water use. To do that, I need to pump 10 gallons of water a minute and run enough of an air pump to oxygenate the water in 20 buckets. At 12 volts, this is going to take about 2 amps. Of course, at night the system has to run as well, but I can route energy to a battery for storage. All in all, I need 5 amps of DC aka 60 watts. Just the panel is $250, the battery is $100. The panel is 4 feet by 2 feet.

Size that up to accommodate my TV, receiver, Xbox (about 10 amps of 110 or 1000 watts) and it will take about 20 feet by 10 feet. That's a quarter of my roof. Nevermind the heat, AC, lighting, fridge, stove, microwave.

Solar panels on roofs are not feasible because our roof is too small and we don't have $20,000 to waste on all the stuff you need for a system that won't power a third of our house, won't work at night and will break.

We need to quit wasting time on solar and wind and develop fusion. That is our only hope.

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

Solar systems are practical for conservation minded folks.

We could set one up that would generate all the power we'd need, and we have all the modern conveniences like central air, dishwasher, washer/dryer, etc.

Grid tie systems use existing transmission lines, so you don't have to buy batteries, and night time isn't an issue - you just have to size the system so that it generates what you use overall. That means that it generates more than you use sometimes, and less other times, but it works out over time.

You can have them set up using free standing panels if your roof doesn't work.

kochmoney 4 years, 5 months ago

Just because it's not economically feasible for you at this very moment doesn't mean that it never will be.

Liberty275 4 years, 5 months ago

Actually, it is partially economically feasible for my garden. I can get enough power for my purposes for less than it would cost for me to get a licensed electrician to run 110 out to the garden. Also, 110 and wet ground don't play together well.

I had this lesson I taught about electricity as a GTA at KU. I'd bring in a car battery and bridge it with metal coat hangers - which would melt instantly. Then I'd offer extra credit for any student that would wet there hands and touch the post. It then degenerated into a fascinating lecture about potential and current and how to not kill yourself while working with electricity.

Back to the subject, it's easy for me and you to cut our power consumption to 2000 watts, but industry can't work on 2000 watts. It took a probably a million watts to build a dozen bikes like yours. Solar and wind can't do that. Nuclear is the only possible replacement for dinogas. Fission is bad, so we need to use that as a last resort. OTOH, Fusion is nice and clean.. The waste is helium I think. I was thinking water, but that is the waste from burning hydrogen.

The money and time we waste developing wind and solar might be great for me and my garden, but on the national level, it's just wasting resources better spent on our undeniable future of fusion.

I think we should still heavily research your alternative energies, but we need to get serious and put a scalable infrastructure in place before everyone else's oil runs out and we have to start using more of our own.

roadwarrior 4 years, 5 months ago

I agree with all these comments about end user renewables. One of my joys regarding green energy was the expectation that we would lose the unsightly transmission lines that are so ugly cutting through our beautiful nation.

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