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Tina Casey headshot

Kansas Wind Power Roars into Eastern Markets on Grain Belt Express

By Tina Casey

Wind power is growing quickly in some midwestern states and a company called Clean Line Energy is moving just as fast to take advantage of the excess capacity in this rapidly expanding energy sector. Last week, Clean Line won approval for its Grain Belt Express Clean Line, LLC affiliate to operate as a utility. That clears the way for Clean Line to build a 700-mile transmission line - the Grain Belt Express - that will connect Eastern states with clean wind power from Kansas, through Missouri. Aside from bringing low cost wind power from the west to the east, the project comes with a partnership with the Nature Conservancy, too.

Wind Power Crossing State Lines

The idea of transmitting wind power halfway across the U.S. seems counterintuitive in terms of cost competitiveness, but the low cost of wind power combined with the security of an all-domestic supply gives wind a competitive edge in the pricey Eastern markets. Even in Western states like Texas, wind power is already bringing down retail electricity prices during peak periods when it can replace expensive gas-powered electricity, and that's just the beginning: the Texas wind industry will soon expand from land-based turbine sites to what could be the first U.S. offshore wind farm. Kansas is no slouch, either. It's ranked third in the nation for wind power potential and Clean Line Energy estimates that its transmission lines will carry more than 3,500 megawatts of wind power, enough for about 1.4 million homes.

The Grain Belt Express and The Nature Conservancy

With partnerships and projects such as its recent wind power land survey, the Nature Conservancy has made a pragmatic bet that the impacts of a mature wind industry will be far more sustainable than further exploitation of conventional energy resources in the US, and given recent fossil fuel disasters combined with the Fukushima nuclear disaster, that seems to be a reasonable path to take. The Nature Conservancy and Clean Line Energy will collaborate on siting the path of the Grain Belt Express transmission line through western Missouri in order to reduce potential impacts.

More Wind Power and Green Jobs, Too

Clean Line also expects the new project to yield hundreds of new green jobs. Considering the energy that many Republican legislators in Congress have spent on withholding support from the alternative energy industry, it's a relief to see the Republican governor of Kansas, Sam Brownback, get behind the Grain Belt Express for all the right reasons. In announcing the new public utility designation for Grain Belt, Brownback stated:

“This project will bring well-paying jobs, generate revenue for landowners and local communities, and open Kansas’ abundant wind resource to new markets. Transmission projects like this are key in our mission to establish Kansas as not only the Wheat State but also the Wind State.”

This forward-looking support for the wind industry in Kansas offers a clear contrast with nearby Wisconsin, where early this spring the Republican-lead legislature put the kibosh on a statewide wind farm siting agreement involving hundreds of stakeholders. As of this fall, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that "hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in potential economic development are stuck in limbo as officials continue to argue over new wind siting rules." Oh, well.

Image credit: Kansas wind turbines, some rights reserved by respres.

Follow on Twitter: @TinaMCasey

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

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