State regulators gave final approval on a controversial transmission line that would span five eastern and southeastern Kansas counties, with critics worried it will unduly impact landowners in the project’s path.
The move would allow construction to proceed, though it is possible that the decision will be challenged in court. A related move to grant NextEra Energy, a Florida-based firm, utility status in Kansas is currently being litigated in Crawford County District Court.
The proposed route would slice through Coffey, Anderson, Allen, Bourbon and Crawford counties, connecting Wolf Creek nuclear power plant near Burlington to the Blackberry Substation across the border in Missouri.
NextEra was allowed eminent domain authority when it was deemed to be a utility last year but has not been able to use it until the siting and route for the project was approved by the Kansas Corporation Commission.
But the idea gained pushback from some area landowners, who argued the proposed route had an overly burdensome impact on their livelihoods and that the environmental impact of the plan had not been properly evaluated.
“The location of NextEra’s proposed line is unreasonable because it adversely impacts my family and I personally and negatively impacts landowners generally,” Rochelle McGee Smart, an Anderson County landowner, said in testimony submitted to the KCC.
Other critics say the project, developed at the behest of the regional power grid that includes Kansas, would have the benefit of shipping electricity generated in Kansas out-of-state, with marginal benefits to residents.
KCC Commissioner Andrew French rejected that analysis, arguing the project would deliver lower utility rates for in-state residents. Moreover, he maintained that the costs of the project would be born across the members of the regional grid, called the Southwest Power Pool.
“If Kansas were to effectively veto or reject this line, we’d be making a pretty unbelievable choice,” French said. “We’d be signaling that we are happy to pay for infrastructure in other states but when projects come along for us that other states will help pay for, we will pass on those.”
Commission chair Susan Duffy said she felt the move would improve the state’s energy reliability by improving its connections with nearby states. This is especially relevant, she said, as the state enters what is projected to be an abnormally warm summer.
“We can’t build this fast enough,” Duffy said.
One commissioner dissented, pointing to route next to Evergy lines
But the commission’s third member, Dwight Keen, dissented from the move, pointing to what he believed to be a series of flaws with the planned route.
Most notably, he said the route would, for roughly a quarter of its length, involve the project running alongside an existing transmission line held by Evergy, the electric utility that operates Wolf Creek.
Such a move, he said, was wasteful and would potentially irreparably damage the land for future use, though NextEra argued a move to share infrastructure with Evergy was unworkable.