Kansas regulators deliberating siting application for Grain Belt Express

After concluding four public hearings, a pre-hearing and a formal technical hearing, the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC) is considering whether to grant the siting permit application for the proposed Grain Belt Express transmission project that would carry wind energy from southwest Kansas through Missouri and Illinois to southwestern Indiana (Docket No. 13-GBEE-803-MIS).

“The commission is considering the necessity [of the project], and also the route that is being proposed,” a KCC spokesperson told TransmissionHub Oct. 17.

Grain Belt Express Clean Line, the developers of the project, filed their application for a siting permit on July 15, seeking permission to build approximately 370 miles of the approximately 750-mile, 600-kV HVDC line that is planned to extend along the northern portion of the state to the Missouri River south of Troy, Kan. From there, the line will continue eastward across Missouri and Illinois before terminating at the Sullivan 765-kV substation, about 30 miles south of Terre Haute, Ind.

The construction management firm hired by the developers evaluated 15 potential route segments before selecting three segments which, in its analysis, best met the overall goal of “minimizing impacts on natural, human, and historic resources along the route, while best utilizing existing transmission rights-of-way (ROW),” according to the siting application. Although the alignment was originally anticipated to extend through the southern portion of the state, an alignment across the northern portion of the state was chosen “because of broad scale limitations and challenges associated with the southern portions of the study area, Grain Belt Express said in testimony accompanying the siting application.

Filing of the application was followed by public hearings in August, a pre-hearing on Oct. 4, and a formal hearing before the KCC in Topeka, Kan., Oct. 8.

Grain Belt Express filed 62 pages of letters that supported the project, citing positive benefits including job creation, pollution reduction. The project would also enable 3,500 MW of new wind generation projects to be built in the state, according to the letters.

Several groups and area residents intervened in the proceedings and objected to a number of facets of the proposed project. Among those was the Marshall County Board of Commissioners, which stated its belief that it would be “reasonable for the proposed electric line to be located underground, rather than above ground, because there is no need for the lines to be readily accessible in order for power to be taken on and off the line for local consumers.”

In its post-hearing motion, the board also said an underground alignment would allow farmers to continue to farm the surface of the land, and that it would be safer if the lines were underground. That motion, however, did not acknowledge or address either the additional cost or technological challenges of undergrounding a high-voltage transmission line.

Several landowners also objected to the project for a number of reasons, including that the project was either not needed or would not benefit the state’s residents.

“No harm would be done to the people of Kansas if this route were denied,” Matthew Stallbaumer said. “Why should landowners have to sacrifice ANYTHING for a speculative merchant transmission project?” he asked in post-hearing testimony that concluded with a request that the commission deny the route application.

Because Kansas regulators have 120 days from the date of filing to render a decision, a ruling is expected on or before Nov. 12, the KCC spokesperson said.

Developers estimate it will cost approximately $900m to develop the Kansas HVDC facilities and noted that, as a merchant transmission facility, those costs would not be passed on to Kansas ratepayers through Southwest Power Pool’s cost allocation process.

Multi-state effort ongoing

Developers are also reaching out to potentially affected parties and pursuing the necessary regulatory approvals in the other states the project will touch.

They are currently seeking feedback on the potential routes through Missouri via its website. The developers intend to use the feedback received from landowners and other interested parties to help them refine the potential routes and ultimately select one proposed route to submit with an application to the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC). They expect to make that filing during 1Q14, a spokesperson for the developers told TransmissionHub Oct. 18.

Similar to the process in Missouri, Grain Belt Express plans to submit an application to the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC). After evaluating routing data and working with landowners and community members to identify a proposed route and possibly an alternative route, the developer will file an application with the ICC to become a public utility and construct the project in Illinois. 

“As the project moves along in the other states, we will have a better idea of when we will file in Illinois,” the spokesperson added.

The company received public utility status from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) on May 23 and is now subject to the jurisdiction of the IURC in Indiana.

The KCC approved the company’s certificate of public convenience (CPC) on Dec. 7, 2011, finding that “the service Clean Line seeks to provide is not being provided by any other Kansas utility,” and that “the export of Kansas’ abundant wind energy resources is in the public’s interest.” By that action, Clean Line Partners was designated a public utility, but limited to transmission siting.

The cost of the total project is estimated at $2.2bn. Commercial operation could begin as early as 2018.

Grain Belt Express Clean Line is owned by parent company Clean Line Energy Partners.

Originally published on Oct. 17, this article was updated on Oct. 18 to include additional details provided by the developer.