Gov. Laura Kelly, Invenergy outline economic jolt of electric transmission project

By: - September 30, 2020 2:00 pm
Gov. Laura Kelly said construction of Inevergy’s new Grain Belt Express transmission line to carry wind-driven electricity to Missouri, Illinois and Indiana can create about 1,000 permanent jobs in Kansas. This image is of Evergy's Flat Ridge Wind Farm near Medicine Lodge. (Submitted/Kansas Reflector)

Evergy’s Flat Ridge Wind Farm, near Medicine Lodge, is one of the utility’s sources of renewable energy. Bills before the Kansas Senate would make developing wind energy impossible, the industry says. (Submitted to Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly touted job creation, opportunities to expand wind farming and potential savings for ratepayers Wednesday with construction of an electric transmission line to move power from western Kansas to consumers in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.

She joined transmission developer Invenergy to outline benefits of Grain Belt Express, which is a 780-mile project designed to transfer 4,000 megawats of wind-powered electricity from the rural plains to population centers. The project has been mired in legal and political battles, but could alleviate a shortage of transmission capacity in Kansas needed for delivery of its abundant wind resource.

Kelly said the project would create in Kansas an estimated 22,500 temporary jobs during the three-year construction and nearly 1,000 permanent jobs as the system went online. She said Kansans would earn $1.6 billion in salary during construction and $54 million annually when operational.

“Kansas is uniquely positioned to be a regional and national leader in the development and expansion of clean and renewable energy,” the Democratic governor said. “The Grain Belt Express will be instrumental in helping to power Kansas and other states.”

The Grain Belt Express’ transmission network would move electricity from the Dodge City area into northern Kansas, turn eastward and cross into Missouri near St. Joseph. The line would follow an easterly course through Missouri and Illinois before reaching Indiana.

Kris Zadlo, senior vice president of regulatory affairs at Invenergy, said during the news conference the company’s investment in the project could inspire enough wind and solar farm development in Kansas to power 2.4 million homes.

Kansas and Missouri consumers might benefit from lower-cost power if utility companies in those states take advantage of new access to electricity drawn from renewable sources, he said.

Zadlo and Kelly said the large investment in Kansas would be beneficial as the economy worked through damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Economic recovery and long-term economic competitiveness in Kansas and Missouri depend on new investment, more jobs and tapping into low-cost, homegrown clean energy, which Grain Belt is moving full speed ahead to deliver,” he said.

Kansas Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers said Grain Belt Express would allow installation of broadband infrastructure on towers along the line in support of internet services.

“This new project will not only create good-paying jobs and invest dollars in our communities, it will strengthen Kansas’ position as a leader in renewable energy and make great strides in our efforts to expand broadband access statewide,” Rogers said.

Chicago-based Invenergy bought the Grain Belt Express project in 2018 from Clean Line Energy Partners in Houston. The transaction was approved by Kansas and Missouri regulators.

The transmission project has been endorsed by environmentalists who advocate for greater reliance on renewable energy rather than power plants driven by fossil fuels. Landowners in Missouri concerned about the line’s interference with farm operations or adverse affect on their health sought to block the project.

In July, the Missouri Court of Appeals rejected the challenge by Missouri landowners of a 2019 ruling by the state’s Public Service Commission to allow Invenergy to buy rights to construct the Grain Belt Express line.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys argued Missouri regulators shouldn’t allow a private company to rely on eminent domain proceedings to acquire land for towers necessary to carry the above-ground line. The appellate court, however, determined the sale was permitted because the electricity would be transmitted to serve the general public rather than particular retail customers.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.