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Prairie Wind Transmission project breaks ground on Kansas plains

by on August 8, 2012
The ceremonial groundbreaking for the Prairie Wind Transmission project occurred August 1 near Colwich, Kansas, in 100-degree temperatures. Left to right are John Cupparo, Electric Transmission America; Steve Kelly, Kansas Department of Commerce; Doug Sterbenz, Westar Energy; Kelly Harrison, president of Prairie Wind Transmission; Scott Smith, senior vice president – AEP Transmission, and Greg Greenwood, Westar Energy.

(Story by Stephen J. Ostrander)

COLWICH, Kansas — The Prairie Wind Transmission line, a joint venture between Westar Energy and Electric Transmission America (a joint venture between subsidiaries of AEP and MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company), began on August 1 after a ceremonial tossing of a few shovelfuls of prairie soil near Colwich, Kansas, northwest of Wichita. Bulldozers now will take over the job of clearing the 108-mile transmission highway across Kansas to Oklahoma.

By the end of 2014, a 345-kilovolt high capacity transmission will stretch from Colwich southwest across four Kansas counties to Medicine Lodge and then south to the Kansas-Oklahoma border. When finished, the $180 million project will be the first extra-high voltage transmission line linking eastern and western Kansas, promising to significantly reduce transmission congestion, improve reliability, and promote growth of wind energy in Kansas.

“AEP through its ETA joint venture is proud to be a partner in this project,” said Scott Smith, senior vice president of transmission strategy and business development for AEP Transmission, who represented AEP at the groundbreaking ceremony. “Prairie Wind will improve reliability in the region, offer growth opportunities, and deliver renewable generation to the grid. It is an element in AEP’s growth strategy to invest in transmission development beyond our service territory.”

Under the 2008 joint venture agreement, Westar Energy, headquartered in Topeka, Kansas, provided project services. ETA is a 50 percent investor in the project.

“AEP’s refocused transmission strategy, which includes both near-term transmission projects to enhance and improve local reliability within our traditional service area and longer-term joint venture projects in other regions, is yielding results,” said Nick Akins, AEP president and chief executive officer.

Project unlocks wind energy source

“This project is important to our state and the region,” said Kelly Harrison, president, Prairie Wind Transmission (PWT). “If we are to truly unlock Kansas’ wind energy potential, new transmission is needed to carry this power to the rest of the state and the region.”

Project facilities include construction of a substation at Medicine Lodge, located near the Flat Ridge Wind Farm, owned by Westar and BP Alternative. From there, the line goes south to the Kansas and Oklahoma border and connects to a line being constructed by Oklahoma Gas and Electric. The route avoided habitats of animals under consideration by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the endangered species list — the lesser prairie chicken and some bats species.

Communities along the route will benefit from the project’s jobs, increased tax revenues and payments to landowners for right-of-way easements. The improvement to the regional transmission system will offer local economic development opportunities.

The Kansas Corporate Commission approved the transmission route earlier this year. Investors may earn a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved return on equity of 12.8 percent.

Construction costs will be shared among utility customers in the nine-state Southwest Power Pool (SPP) regional transmission system, including customers of Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) and Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO), both AEP operating companies.

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