This photo illustration shows what Clean Line transmission projects would look like after construction. Credit: Clean Line Energy Partners

Missouri regulators’ approval of the transmission project puts Kansas in a position for significant wind development.

Kansas is in line for a huge increase in wind energy development after a proposed long-distance transmission line finally cleared a major regulatory hurdle in Missouri last month.

More than 1,000 wind turbines and associated industries could spring up in western Kansas as a result of the Grain Belt Express. After years of setbacks, the project gained Missouri utility regulators’ approval late last month to proceed.

“This could be a very significant development for wind in Kansas,” said Kimberly Gencur Svaty, public policy director for the Advanced Power Alliance. The association represents renewables industries in 14 states in the middle of the country.

The 780-mile direct current line would carry up to 4,000 megawatts of wind power from western Kansas across Missouri and Illinois to Indiana, where it would be connected to transmission lines moving it farther east. Clean Line Energy of Houston has been developing the line and is in the process of selling it to Invenergy. The Missouri Public Service Commission is considering whether to approve the sale.

Although the Grain Belt Express still must obtain several state and county-level approvals, the project’s future looks much more promising now that it has received a certificate of convenience and necessity from Missouri’s Public Service Commission. Regulators twice denied the developer’s applications. The approval followed a ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court stating the commissioners made a mistake in their second rejection.

Kansas winds are among the most productive in the country. The state ranks fourth nationwide in terms of wind energy potential, behind only Texas, Montana and New Mexico, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Wind energy production in Kansas has been growing rapidly, and installed capacity now stands at 5,638 megawatts, according to Gencur Svaty. She said that projects now under development should boost that to about 7,530 megawatts by 2020.

John Hensley, senior director for research and analytics with the American Wind Energy Association, said the Grain Belt Express “is what’s going to unlock the market in Kansas. The infrastructure is critically important in this area.”

An additional 4,000 megawatts would increase Kansas’ wind capacity by more than 50%. Beth Soholt, executive director of the Clean Grid Alliance, is confident that will come to pass.

“I think there will be plenty of projects to use this line,” she said.

They likely will cluster in a fairly small part of west-central Kansas because the Grain Belt Express is designed to take on power at one location: an injection point outside of Spearville and near Dodge City. It will deliver about 500 MW to a group of city utilities in central Missouri, and then will ferry the remaining 3,500 MW to a spot just east of the Illinois-Indiana border.

If wind developers pursue all 4,000 megawatts of generation, Gencur Svaty said she would not be surprised to see a flowering of industries and services related to wind power near the transmission line’s injection point.

“You want the components as close as possible,” she said. “I think the opportunity is ripe.”

Kansas already has seen how growth in wind farm development can trickle out into other aspects of the wind economy. In 2009, as the prospects for wind energy in Kansas were improving, Siemens located a plant in Hutchinson, in central Kansas, that builds the motor, gearbox and other equipment that runs the turbine.

The area near the transmission line’s western terminus, a few miles outside the town of Spearville, already has a large number of wind turbines: 801 in Ford County.

Although the Grain Belt could lead to the construction of approximately 1,300 more turbines relatively close by, that wouldn’t cause any technological or financial problems according to Paul Veers, chief engineer for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s National Wind Technology Center. In Wyoming, a 3,000-megawatt wind farm is now under development, he said, and comparable to the level of wind development that may take shape in western Kansas.

“The wind is often remote,” Veers said. “It’s not unusual to transport the energy some distance to a decent interconnection point. You may be pulling from 100 miles.”

Although moving the energy a long distance would add to the cost, Veers said it wouldn’t significantly detract from the profits to be gained from the winds of western Kansas.

Previous coverage of the Grain Belt Express transmission line project

Karen spent most of her career reporting for the Kansas City Star, focusing at various times on local and regional news, and features. More recently, she was employed as a researcher and writer for a bioethics center at a children’s hospital in Kansas City. Karen covers Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.