Counties hope to develop wind energy in NW Kansas

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

WaKEENEY -- It's a twist on the classic conundrum of which came first, the chicken or the egg?

As far as counties and developers are concerned in the wind-rich region of northwest Kansas, it's more of a question of which needs to come first, the wind farms or the transmission line to move the electricity produced by the spinning turbine blades?

At least that's what was on the plate Wednesday in WaKeeney.

That's the scenario being played out in the region, according to Dan Hartman, economic development director for Dighton-Lane County and the driving force behind a consortium of northwest Kansas counties that actively have promoted the development of commercial wind farms in the area.

Wednesday's meeting in WaKeeney, attracting a smattering of city and county officials, and wind and transmission developers, took a closer look at the idea of a massive transmission line from Hays to Mingo -- dubbed by the group as the Sunflower Express.

Hartman said they didn't want to stop there, instead extending the line west from Mingo, just southeast of Colby, on into Colorado, linking in to a substation at Burlington.

Doing so would allow for the construction of a connector with the western grid, allowing for Kansas-produced wind power to move into the power-hungry west.

"We need your help," Hartman said of spreading the word about the transmission line and the resources it could carry. Doing so might boost it's stature with both the state and the Southwest Power Pool, the federal utility agency that essentially dictates when and where transmission lines will be constructed.

Hartman said the line is needed to carry the electricity from the dozens of wind farms proposed for the area.

"We all know there are a lot of projects ... and every one of them has leased up land," he said.

Still, the Sunflower Express isn't sitting high on the list of priorities for SPP.

"I personally, and there is my bias, I think our project should be up there in the top five," Hartman said.

Instead, said Alan Myers, ITC Great Plains' planning director, the project has just made it onto SPP's 20-year plan.

"From SPP's prospective, this is no further than in 2008," said Carl Huslig, the business lead for ITC.

In fact, he said, the SPP doesn't even refer to it as the Sunflower Express, calling it the Mingo to Post Rock line instead. The Post Rock substation isn't even built yet, but will be part of the ITC line stretching from Spearville to Hays.

Hartman urged those attending to help spread the word about the resources available, suggesting as much as $4.5 billion in capital investments stand poised to go into northwest Kansas if wind developers can sell the power.

"That's incredible," he said, citing the thousands of jobs, some of them temporary, that would be created. "It's our future. This is our 15 minutes of fame."