June 16, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

KCC ignores landowners, grants route for power lines to take electricity out of state

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In a 2-1 vote earlier this week, the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC) — which regulates public utilities in the state of Kansas — approved a “Siting Application” for a 94-mile electric transmission project that will reroute power from the Wolf Creek nuclear power plant to Missouri and beyond.

Commissioners Andrew J. French and Susan K. Duffy voted to approve the project over the objections of landowners along the five-county route and rejected an alternative route that would have allowed for much of the line to be placed on existing poles.  

Duffy and French, both appointed by Governor Laura Kelly, conceded that 25 miles of the project — which is being built by NextEra Energy Transmission Southwest (NEET Southwest) — could have been co-located or “double-circuited” on poles already along the route owned by Evergy, which is the largest electric provider in the state.

“In selecting the initial preferred route for the project, NEET Southwest sought to reduce impacts to land use by paralleling or co-locating with existing transmission lines,” the decision reads. “As a result, NEET Southwest proposed locating approximately 25 miles of the project parallel to Evergy’s Marmaton transmission line.”

While Evergy suggested the Marmaton line was nearing the end of its useful life, that does not mean the existing poles couldn’t continue to be of use, and KCC Staff suggested double-circuiting as a good option.

Duffy and French, however, rejected that option.

“Double-circuiting is not uncommon,” they wrote. “However, according to witness Daniel Mayers, there has never been a situation in America where a double-circuit is comprised of two different utilities’ lines.”

Commissioner Dwight Keen, who was appointed by Governor Jeff Colyer, noted in his dissent, however, that simply because it has not been done before does not mean it couldn’t be done.

Keen said he would have denied the siting application and required NextEra and Evergy to “negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) governing the double circuited lines and coordinate the construction phase, the operating procedures (including maintenance responsibilities), access sharing issues, and cost-sharing arrangements for all issues of mutual concern.”

This would have meant that approximately 22.5 of the project be co-located “on a single set of poles with an existing nearby or adjacent Evergy transmission line to avoid having two major electric transmission lines sited parallel to each other along any portion of the route of the Line.”

Keen would also have asked the Southwest Power Pool — of which Kansas is a member and to which French is the state representative — to weigh in to ensure there would not be two parallel lines for any portion of the line.

During the business meeting where the decision was made, Keen was adamant that this was simply a bad plan.

“Parallel electric transmission lines and their infrastructure can constitute very burdensome untenable and adverse encumbrances on the land and, in this instance, in my opinion, make the proposed route of this line unreasonable,” he said.

Moreover, he said, the SPP was driving the decision-making in this case and failed to get input from the KCC early in the process.

“This flawed SPP vetting process precluded the KCC’s staff from providing timely input regarding local issues and concerns at certain consequential stages in the SPP-managed decision-making processes,” Keen said. “The Commission Order recognizes that the SPP would have benefited from involving the Commission at the outset or certainly earlier in its review processes. Unfortunately, it did not. 

“Under the circumstances, granting this siting permit, in my opinion, without remanding important issues to the SPP for its reconsideration, gives only passing acknowledgment of the serious cost consequences and burdens for affected Kansas landowners and other stakeholders, all favoring and advancing more immediate regional SPP benefits. As a result of the approval of this line siting application, affected landowners along a 22.5-mile segment of this line will have their lands encumbered in perpetuity by two parallel large electric transmission lines traversing their properties.”

Indeed, local landowners Rochelle McGhee-Smart and Darren McGhee did object to such encumbrances and, through their attorney, blasted the KCC’s decision.

“Instead of meeting their statutory obligation to protect the rights of all interested parties, these Commissioners sold out Kansas farmers and ranchers to a Florida-based conglomerate so it can now ship Kansas energy out of state,” the statement from Rustin J. Kimmell of Kimmell Law reads. “The Duffy/French Order does not mention the 50 written public comments – that run 145 pages – from citizens in Allen, Anderson, Bourbon, Coffey, and Crawford counties – or our citizen’s nearly uniform opposition to the Blackberry Line at public hearings in Iola and Girard. The Commissioners did not even attend a large portion of the two public hearings. To the KCC, public participation was a mere formality, with no substance to be considered by the Commissioners in their decision.

Because the developers were given the status of a public utility nearly a year ago, landowners in the five affected counties — Coffey, Anderson, Allen, Bourbon and Crawford — could be forced to allow the project under eminent domain.

“A state agency should order no one in Kansas to give up their land to “host” two parallel high-voltage electric transmission lines across their property. Even worse is that the KCC permitted NextEra to secure the poles by ‘guy wires,’ not requiring free-standing poles that would be much easier to farm around. Perhaps most infuriating is that the two Commissioners acknowledge in the Duffy/French Order that the whole route selection process is flawed — suggesting they will try to do better in the next line routing case. 

“Maybe the Commission will correct some flaws in the future, but probably not. And it surely will not fix the problems NextEra’s line creates for Kansas farmers and ranchers now.”

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