KCC chairman dissents on vote muffling business group’s voice in transmission project case

Majority limits Goodyear, Spirit AeroSystems and other industrial customers

By: - May 6, 2022 4:00 pm
The Kansas Corporation Commission limited the ability of a business coalition to formally participate in regulatory debate on construction of a new electricity transmission line in southeast Kansas. Evergy and other utility companies were granted full intervention rights by the KCC. (Jill Hummels/Kansas Reflector)

The Kansas Corporation Commission limited the ability of a business coalition to formally participate in regulatory debate on construction of a new electricity transmission line in southeast Kansas. Evergy and other utility companies were granted full intervention rights by the KCC. (Jill Hummels/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The chairman of the Kansas Corporation Commission issued a rare dissent when a majority on the regulatory commission imposed limits on a business coalition’s ability to argue against construction of a new transmission line carrying power from the Wolf Creek nuclear plant in Kansas to customers in Missouri.

The KCC, at the behest of commissioners Andrew French and Susan Duffy, issued an order restraining input from the Kansas Industrial Consumers Group, or KIC, which represents Goodyear Tire and Rubber, Spirit AeroSystems, Lawrence Paper Company, Occidental Chemical Corp. and the Kansas Hospital Association.

The KCC order limited KIC to offering insight into the project’s impact on retail rates. This would potentially eliminate KIC participation as to whether or not the project was a necessity under Kansas law.

The KCC granted opportunities for full intervention in the case to a handful of utility companies, including Evergy, ITC Great Plains, KEPCo, Sunflower Electric and NextEra Energy.

Commission chairman Dwight Keen, appointed by Gov. Jeff Colyer and reappointed by Gov. Laura Kelly, said the standard French and Duffy established to constrain KIC’s involvement in NextEra Energy’s plan to build and operate Wolf Creek-Blackberry transmission line was “at best overbroad, vague and ambiguous and, accordingly, ineffectual and virtually unenforceable.” The transmission line cutting across five counties in southeast Kansas is expected to cost at least $85 million.

“In all other instances,” Keen said, “intervention was granted to other parties with varied stated interests without limitation, condition or admonition, beyond the limitations imposed by the procedural ground rules generally applicable to all intervenors.”

Keen said his perspective should be viewed as a partial acceptance and partial dissent of the order approved by his peers. He said he agreed KIC ought to have a role in the transmission-line case, but rejected limits on KIC crafted by French and Duffy.

Neither Duffy nor French, both appointees of Kelly, offered public comment when approving the order at the KCC’s meeting April 28.

David Cohen, assistant general counsel on the corporation commission, said NextEra filed an application to operate as a public utility to build the Wolf Creek-Blackberry transmission line. KIC filed to have an official voice in the KCC’s consideration of NextEra’s application based on concerns about the project’s necessity and cost, potential for use of eminent domain and the likelihood of the project raising Kansas electricity costs, he said.

Cohen said NextEra’s position was KIC raised “speculative” issues and a full-throated intervention by KIC could “impair the prompt and orderly conduct” of the KCC’s consideration of the project.

Sen. Mike Thompson, a Shawnee Republican and chairman of the Senate Utilities Committee, said he disagreed with the KCC majority decision to sideline significant Kansas employers who consume large quantities of electricity. Their perspectives on development of new transmission lines paid for by utility customers should be part of the commission’s evidentiary record, he said.

Thompson said he agreed with Keen’s belief the KCC shouldn’t pre-emptively shove aside arguments contrary to those of utility companies.

“We’re going to be footing the bill for this transmission line carrying power into Missouri,” Thompson said. “If we’re not careful we’re going to run a lot of businesses out of this state because average electric rates are higher than in surrounding states.”

NextEra Energy Transmission, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, announced in October 2021 that it had been awarded the opportunity to build the Wolf Creek-Blackberry transmission line project by the Southwest Power Pool. The plan has been to build a 90-mile, 345-kilovolt line from the Wolf Creek substation at Burlington, Kansas, to the Blackberry substation in Jasper County, Missouri. Such a project requires regulatory approval in both Missouri and Kansas.

NextEra Energy Transmission develops, finances, constructs and maintains transmission systems. It operates through regional subsidiaries a business that integrates renewable energy and strengthens the electric grid.

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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. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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