Grid is the key for Kansas to export wind energy

Workers repair a power line damaged by a winter storm near Ogallah, Kansas

Workers repair a power line damaged by a winter storm near Ogallah, Kansas

Kansas lacks the high-voltage power lines it would need to export more than a tiny fraction of its potential 950GW of wind resource.

“Wind and transmission go hand in hand. It’s a long-term issue,” says Dorothy Barnett, executive director of the Climate and Energy Project, a renewables advocacy group based in Lawrence, Kansas.

Barnett estimates that one third of project capacity under construction in Kansas is scheduled for delivery elsewhere.

BP and Sempra, which are building the 419MW Flat Ridge 2 wind farm 40 miles (64.3km) southwest of Wichita, will deliver power to Associated Electric Co-operative in Missouri and Southwestern Electric Power, which operates in Arkansas, Louisiana and parts of Texas.

A third deal has been done but not yet announced.

“Kansas is offering a product,” says Kimberly Svaty, who represents the Wind Coalition trade group in Kansas. “We are well positioned to continue supplying wind energy to the rest of the nation.”

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback agrees, telling Recharge that adding more high-voltage lines should be co-ordinated within the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), which oversees a transmission system in eight states including Kansas. SPP members include market players such as utilities, independent power producers and transmission companies.

He praises a new SPP formula for 345kV lines that assigns costs regionally based on a utility’s load share. It has helped end a situation where construction of wind farms would not occur without transmission and vice-versa.

ITC Great Plains, a unit of Michigan-based ITC Holdings, is building a 225-mile 345kV line from southern Kansas to the Nebraska border. The first part is in service and the second is scheduled later this year.

The company will also design and construct two segments — a total of 122 miles of 345kV — in wind-rich south-central Kansas. A third segment of the so-called V-Line will connect with Greater Wichita. It will be built by utility Westar and joint-venture partner Electric Transmission America, entering service in 2014.

Terry Harvill, vice-president of ITC Grid Development, says the US lacks a national energy policy, as evidenced by doubts over whether the wind production tax credit will continue. ITC takes the long view that more transmission will be needed to keep pace with economic and population growth, and development of new energy sources such as wind.

“The present uncertainty is a blip on the radar screen. Transmission takes a long time to work through the planning pro-cess,” he says.

ITC favours alternating current as it fits well on the existing grid, is robust and helps customers from a reliability perspective. It does not build or finance merchant projects itself.

“We are not willing to assume that level of risk,” Harvill explains, noting that wind developers are reluctant to make formal commitments to put capacity into eastern markets without policy certainty. More research needs to be done on the possible effects of large amounts of wind energy on electricity prices, he adds.

Houston-based Clean Line Energy is not concerned. Its Grain Belt Express project would deliver 3.5GW of wind energy from western Kansas to Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and points further east via an overhead, high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) line. The developer believes HVDC is the most efficient and cost-effective technology to move large amounts of power over long distances.

“Clean Line has done a good job in Kansas talking about the project benefits,” says Barnett, noting that residents understand they will not finance the project.

Brownback acknowledges that building power lines is not cheap, but progress is being made.

“It’s expensive, but it’s happening,” he says. “I hope we can get some of the dedicated lines built and they can make enough money off the tolling to move the electricity and get the wind resource to market.”

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