KETA project energized and in service

The Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) and ITC Great Plains have energized the final portions of the 227-mile Spearville-Axtell 345-kV line that runs from Spearville, Kan., to Axtell, Neb., ahead of schedule and under budget.

NPPD energized its 53-mile portion of the project, known as the Kansas Electric Transmission Authority (KETA) project, on Dec. 10, while ITC energized its 85-mile long second phase of the project on Dec. 11.  Phase I of ITC’s portion of the project, the 89-mile Spearville-Post Rock 345-kV line, was placed into service on June 29.

The most recent estimate for both phases of the ITC portion of the project was $175m, according to ITC, while NPPD’s portion of the project was initially budgeted at $77m. Neither developer has released final cost figures but each stated they completed their portion of the project under budget.

“A lot of that was due to some of the smooth negotiations with landowners for our easements, but also because of lowered costs and the availability of labor and materials,” Kristine Schmidt, president of ITC Great Plains, told TransmissionHub Dec. 13.

ITC built the Kansas portion of the project in conjunction with Sunflower Electric Power and Midwest Energy.

Both portions of the project came on line ahead of schedule. ITC’s Phase II segment was completed some six months ahead of schedule while NPPD’s Axtell-to-Kansas segment had been scheduled to be completed by the end of the year, an NPPD spokesperson told TransmissionHub Dec. 13.

Mother nature also provided a helping hand, Schmidt added.

“The timing can be attributed to the weather that we had, which was good for construction but not necessarily good for farming because of the drought,” she said. “Given the fact that we did not have bad weather throughout the course of the project, we were able to keep things moving along fairly quickly.”

Placing the project in service before the coldest portion of winter is already yielding benefits, Schmidt said.

“SPP was seeing about 170 MWs flowing on the line Tuesday morning, so already we’re seeing used as it was designed to be used: to increase the load flow in the area,” she said. The line is capable of transmitting up to 1,800 MWs.

Schmidt added: “It was largely about improving flows, increasing reliability, and reducing congestion” within that portion of the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) region. “We were seeing a lot of build-out of transmission in the SPP region, both north-to-south and east-to-west as they try to improve the infrastructure.”

The project is also expected to aid the area’s economy.

“The completion of this project will benefit Midwest Energy’s customer-owners and spur economic development in the communities we serve,” Earnie Lehman, President and General Manager of Midwest Energy, said in a statement announcing the segment’s completion.

Several facets of the region’s character made the developers’ job easier, Schmidt said. One pivotal factor was the mindset of the area’s residents.

“The folks here [in the Kansas and Oklahoma region] are quite receptive to building transmission,” Schmidt said. “They recognize the regional benefits associated with these projects.”

Cost allocation, an issue that dogs many projects elsewhere, wasn’t an issue either, she added, because the SPP cost allocation methodology has been agreed to and accepted by the region’s developers, resulting in smoother going.

“We just tend to have a better transmission planning and cost allocation methodology that is just more conducive to building transmission and, as a result, we continue to invest in more projects in the region,” Schmidt said.

Looking to the future

With its portions of the KETA project completed, ITC Great Plains is concentrating on its other transmission projects.

“We just broke ground on our V-Plan project, a project intended to improve west-to-east load flows across the state of Kansas, which will reduce congestion in the broader region,” Schmidt said. “We’re also in the early stages of developing the Elm Creek-Summit transmission project, which is a north-south project in central Kansas.”

The Elm Creek-Summit project is a 58-mile, 345-kV transmission line and associated facilities being developed with Westar Energy (NYSE: WR) at an estimated cost of $105m, according to TransmissionHub data.

“We’re actively engaged in the SPP planning process, and hope to be able to see some projects come out next summer that we will be doing as well,” Schmidt said.

Referring to the post-Order 1000 climate, which has already resulted in the demise of at least one transmission joint venture, Schmidt said, “Yes, it is getting more competitive, but we believe we’ve got the appropriate business model … to take us well into the future.”