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Work begins on 108-mile southern Kan. power line

Published on -8/2/2012, 3:25 PM

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COLWICH, Kan. (AP) -- Construction began Wednesday on a new 108-mile power line between Colwich and Medicine Lodge that is part of a larger effort to encourage development of wind farms in central and western Kansas, state and utility officials said.

Ground was broken in a field near Colwich for a high-capacity line carrying 345 kilovolts that will extend from Wichita to Medicine Lodge. It's a project of Prairie Wind Transmission, a joint venture of Westar Energy and Electric Transmission America.

The line to Medicine Lodge will connect with a similar-sized line being built by ITC Great Plains, which will end at Spearville near Dodge City. Prairie Wind Transmission will also extend a line south from Medicine Lodge to connect to lines in Woodward, Okla.

The new transmission lines will make the region's power grid more reliable and should attract wind farm developers to the area, said Doug Sterbenz, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Westar.

Wind farm developers are planning to invest about $2 billion in wind farms in Kansas this year, doubling the wind energy generated in the state, The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/PotdM3).

"We are not just building a new transmission line, we are shaping our energy future," Sterbenz said.

Steve Kelly, deputy secretary of the Kansas Department of Commerce, said the transmission line also is a way to export electricity generated in western Kansas to markets in the east. More than half of Kansas wind power generated by the end of 2012 will be exported.

"Kansas is poised to be a leader in renewable energy production, not just in this country, but worldwide, now that we have the means of getting it to market," he said.

Kelly Harrison, president of Prairie Wind and a vice president for Westar, acknowledged that wind power is slightly more expensive than the cheapest fossil fuel, requiring a government subsidy to make it competitive.

But Harrison said the line from Wichita to Medicine Lodge to Oklahoma, originally estimated to cost $225 million, is expected to cost $180 million because of lower construction costs.

The cost is being spread across electrical customers in parts of Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. Harrison said Westar customers will pay 14 percent of the cost.

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