Wind, solar could benefit from Kansas transmission compact

Kansas has more wind energy potential than any state except Texas, but eight states generate more total megawatts of wind power even as Brownback and his legislature have taken steps to boost Kansas wind industry. A key problem: a lack of high-voltage electricity lines to connect the remote areas where turbines churn out power to the bustling regions that demand it.It is not easy to build power lines, particularly those that would have to stretch across several states. A complex and sometimes conflicting patchwork of federal and state rules has delayed the completion of some projects and deterred investment.Now, some lawmakers in Kansas and other states are pitching an interstate compact to streamline that process and add renewable energy to the grid more quickly. A bill to join the compact sailed through the Kansas House this year, and lawmakers in Washington and Missouri have proposed similar legislation.The location of power transmission lines is increasingly important as state renewable energy targets drive investments in wind and solar power. Here is a conscious effort saying, states, here is a chance to work together, said Rep. Tom Sloan, a Kansas Republican and energy expert who helped draft the measure in his state.The nation aging power grid was not designed to meet today demand. For decades, the setup was relatively simple: High-voltage electric lines connected major coal, gas or nuclear plants to nearby communities that needed the power. More than 200,000 miles of transmission lines currently crisscross the country.Now, as government incentives and technological advances spur investments in wind and solar energy, experts see a need for more transmission lines to link scattered turbines and solar panels to the grid especially as the U.S. demand for energy rises again after dipping during the recession.As recently as five years ago, the U.S. was building some 1,000 miles of new transmission lines each year. That rate has since more than doubled, according to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, and it expected to reach 3,600 miles per year by 2018.As is the case in Kansas, which sits at the center of a wind tunnel stretching from Eastern Montana and North Dakota down to Texas, some of country best resources lie far from the people who need it.

Montana, for instance, touts the nation third best wind resource, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. But 20 states including some with a fraction of Montana wind potential outpace it in generation, according to federal data. Nebraska, which has the fourth highest potential, ranks further behind.That really kind of is the missing link in some of these renewable goals, said Brydon Ross, who analyzes energy and environmental policy for the Council of State Governments, the nonpartisan group that organized a taskforce to craft the compact model language. Transmission is one of those issues that often get overlooked in these discussions.For many reasons, its hard to build lines across states. They can draw protests from groups concerned about the use of eminent domain, or the effect on the environment. Even less controversial projects can take years to complete as companies slog through conflicting rules and deadlines in each state a project touches.In one extreme case, American Electric Power spent 14 years getting approval for a 90-mile line that took just 18 months to build, according to a report by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation.

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