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Archive for Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Regulator says transmission is key to renewable energy in Kansas

August 6, 2013

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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.”

Comments

roadwarrior 8 months, 1 week 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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Les Blevins 8 months, 1 week ago

As I see it the main reason the city pulled out all the stops and rushed forward with the so called "Wrec Center" is to bind tax payers to the developers dream of pushing Lawrence's western boundaries as far west as possible in as short of time span as possible. Of course this will further isolate the downtown area and many downtown business owners will rush to the west to regain a central location to attract customers. One of the rec centers' pushers is a downtown barbecue restaurant owner and I believe he will be announcing the opening a new barbecue joint out west soon.

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Les Blevins 8 months, 1 week ago

"Community energy" projects are generally defined as those between one and 20 megawatts (MW). This is a sector that is often overlooked. Smaller-scale renewables like solar photovoltaics, and larger-scale renewables such as commercial scale wind, receive far more attention. The advantage of community energy projects is communities can develop a biomass, waste-to-energy or small wind project themselves, and with local funding, and add significant amounts of renewable energy to their local grid without waiting for outside developers. There are many ways businesses and local governments can join forces to build community energy projects.

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Les Blevins 8 months, 1 week ago

Local generation of electric power to supply power to the local distribution grid and service the local load is all that is needed to eliminate most if not all the need for any more very expensive and unwanted long run transmission lines and Rep. Sloan knows this but being on the side of the monopoly utilities and central generation scheme he refuses to do anything other than to talk about the need for more long run transmission so that the utilities can keep us all bound to their dirty coal-fired generation and living as their slaves.

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mikekt 8 months, 1 week ago

Transmission lines are a problem as long as people refuse to produce power on their own roofs and invent smart localized storage of electric power .

Well, cell phones were the size of a brick, .....computers were the size of a house.... & Thank God that private industry saw the $ virtues of progress in those areas.

Here we face in trenched lobbies who favor centralized production somewhere, transmission lines and localized monopolies that distribute power .

Sounds like a centralized plot, to me .

Can you generate on your roof and sell it to the grid ?

That is a door that needs opening, so that you can compete for your very own dollar .

How many years did it take to go from Kitty Hawk to the Moon ?

Some day humans will break the spread of light,..... as we broke the sound barrier, a little over 60 years ago, or so.....and people died trying to break the sound barrier .

Solving were power is made and consumed is a much tamer issue .

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chicago95 8 months, 1 week 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 http://www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/town_talk/2013/jun/25/city-considering-35-million-swap-with-kd) seems like the perfect opportunity,

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