Kansas grants NextEra Energy eminent domain for power transmission line

Builders of a proposed power line carrying nuclear power from Kansas to Missouri now have eminent domain power, but they will have to wait to use it until the final route is approved.

Regulators say electricity consumers in the state will be better off in the long run thanks to cost savings, though they will have to foot the bill for sending Kansas-generated electricity out of state.

The Kansas Society Commission granted public utility status to NextEra Energy Southwest Transmission, which plans to build a 94-mile, 345-kilovolt transmission line between the Wolf Creek nuclear power plant near Burlington and the Blackberry substation in Missouri.

Now that NextEra has a certificate of convenience and necessity, it has eminent domain credentials. But he can’t use them until the route is approved, which would run through Coffey, Anderson, Allen, Bourbon and Crawford counties.

Instead of a longer route following highways in southeastern Kansas, the proposal traverses large swaths of farmland, reducing the distance to the station near Joplin, Missouri.

Several landowners objected to the power lines, which would require a 150-foot easement, during regulatory proceedings.

Anderson County farmer Mike Welding testified that he had no intention of allowing NextEra agents onto his property or signing the easement agreement.

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Allen County farmer Brian Regehr testified that NextEra officers had previously entered his property and damaged it, arguing that the company’s “disregard for my property rights” should be a reason for block the project.

Rochelle McGhee Smart, a farmer and rancher from Anderson County, testified that her operations will suffer.

“These poles, like any obstacle in the field, make farming much more difficult,” she said. “You lose productivity in the field where Nextera wants to put the physical infrastructure and the field in close proximity.”

The KCC’s acknowledgment of landowners’ eminent domain concerns has largely shifted the blame to lawmakers.

“Parliament has granted utilities the power of eminent domain, and the Commission is not the appropriate forum to address these concerns,” the KCC order said.

Why is the power line being built, who pays and who benefits?

A herd of cattle grazes under huge steel transmission lines transferring power from the Wolf Creek Nuclear Generating Station to Burlington on Wednesday afternoon.

Federal regulators in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission mandate that the Southwest Power Pool, which covers Kansas and the other 16 states in the region, provide a reliable supply of electricity, adequate transmission infrastructure and competitive wholesale prices.

The PPU identified the transmission line as a necessary economic project to increase transmission capacity and reduce congestion. The power pool awarded the project to NextEra, a publicly traded company based in Florida.

It is expected to cost $85 million.

The entire SPP region will contribute, with Kansas paying 16.5% of the cost. While the energy is transmitted out of Kansas, it is expected to remain in the SPP.

The idea is that power would be dispatched more efficiently by sending nuclear power to the southwestern Missouri substation, while Wichita, Kansas City and other population centers in eastern Kansas are more dependent on wind power from western Kansas.

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“As a result, the Project will maximize Kansas’ energy resources for the benefit of all SPP customers,” NextEra said in its application.

The dispute was not about whether the power line would benefit the region, but whether it benefits Kansas, which is required by state law.

The KCC believes that this “will have a beneficial effect on customers by reducing overall energy costs, removing inefficiency, relieving transmission congestion and improving the reliability of the transmission system.”

An average Kansas customer might pay 4 to 5 cents a month to help pay for the construction of the power line, said Justin Grady, a KCC tax expert. Over the project’s 40-year lifespan, consumer benefits are expected to be a $4 to $7 reduction for every dollar spent on the line.

The Kansas Industrial Consumers Group disputed these estimates.

The KIC cited SPP’s own study, which made no Kansas-specific findings on the lines’ need or benefit. Further, the SPP witness testified that “it was not possible to identify benefits specific to Kansas, and any attempt to do so would be questionable as to its accuracy,” KIC said.

The group also argued that consumers in western Kansas, which currently have abundant low-cost generation primarily from wind power, will pay more for power.

Jim Zakoura, attorney for the Kansas Industrial Consumers Group, said he was disappointed.

“Retail electricity consumers in Kansas continue to experience steep increases in electrical transmission expenses,” Zakoura said, noting the burden of energy costs for residential customers, businesses, schools, religious buildings and institutions. medical.

“We believe the Legislature, Governor’s Office, KCC, and stakeholders should jointly determine a transmission policy for Kansas that enables responsible renewable energy development without imposing unnecessary costs on overburdened ratepayers,” he said. he declares.

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KCC imposition may change route

The Wolf Creek Nuclear Generating Station dome in Burlington is seen across the Reservoir from Coffee County.

The commission imposed additional requirements on NextEra, including reporting requirements and a financial guarantee.

“While granting the certificate, the Commission imposed additional requirements and conditions on NextEra designed to protect ratepayers and to explore ways to minimize the impact to landowners along the proposed route.”

These include reporting requirements and financial security, but the most important condition could affect the itinerary.

This condition requires NextEra to assess the feasibility of a dual-circuit line with an existing 25-mile, 161-kilovolt Evergy transmission line, which would require less easement and reduce structure costs.

KCC warned that failure to explore the option could result in the project being stalled.

“The public interest of Kansans, including in particular the landowners who would be affected along this part of the preliminary route of the line, will not be served if this matter is not fully considered by all parties before NEET Southwest does not file its line installation application with the Commission,” the KCC order reads. “To reiterate, failure to seriously and fully consider the dual circuit option may result in a proposed route that the Commission cannot approve as reasonable, which the Commission wishes to avoid.”

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Jason Tidd is a reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jason_Tidd.