Energy policy issues are notoriously complex. Seemingly small changes in a state’s energy policy can lead to wide-ranging and often unintended political, economic, and environmental consequences. In an effort to facilitate thoughtful policy discussions about these issues in the state of Kansas, several attorneys from the Polsinelli Shughart energy practice group, Alan Claus Anderson, Britton Gibson and myself, have partnered with Dr. Scott W. White of the Kansas Energy Information Network to draft a report that relies on empirical evidence gathered from the nineteen wind farms currently in operation or under construction in the state of Kansas to estimate the true economic impact of these projects. The text below is part of a larger report, which is also available at http://www.polsinelli.com//files//upload/StudyKansasWind.pdf. We have already discussed the history of Kansas’ unique wind resource in Part 1, and provided a brief history of Kansas wind generation in Part 2.
Today, we will cover the significant potential for future project development in the state, due in large part to the expansion of Kansas’ transmission grid and exciting advancements in wind generation technology.
Future Project Development
Despite the significant growth the Kansas wind industry has experienced over the past few years, the vast majority of the state’s wind resource remains untapped. This growth potential is attributable to many factors, including the fact that the wind resource in Kansas is still significantly underutilized, with a large number of potential projects sites ready to be developed. While some of these sites simply await a buyer, some of them merely require access to sufficient transmission to move the electricity, while others require incremental improvements in wind generation technology.
1. Expansion of the Transmission Grid
Wind energy projects are viable only if they have access to a transmission grid that can transport the power to customers. Historically, this has been an important factor for wind project developers looking for suitable project locations in Kansas, because the bulk of the state’s best wind resource is located in areas with limited access to transmission lines. This issue is currently being addressed by a number of public and private entities.
The Kansas“V-Plan,” the northern portion of the Southwest Power Pool’s (“SPP”) “Y-Plan,” is particularly noteworthy. The “V-Plan” consists of high-voltage transmission that connects eastern and western Kansas with the dual purpose of improving electric reliability and carrying more electricity from various sources, including wind, and thus further establishing a competitive energy market in the state. Two companies, ITC Great Plains and Prairie Wind Transmission, LLC, a joint venture between Westar Energy and Electric Transmission America, are participating in the construction of this 180-mile transmission line which is expected to be completed in 2014. The “Y-Plan” will help support the addition of 2,500 MW of new wind generation in Kansas, Oklahoma, and the Texas panhandle.[i]
In addition to the “V-Plan,” ITC is also developing a 210-mile high-voltage transmission line between Spearville, Kansas and Axtell, Nebraska. Construction of this line, known as the “KETA Project” began in 2009 and is expected to be completed by the end of 2012.[ii] Once completed, the KETA Project, which was encouraged by the Kansas Electric Transmission Authority (“KETA”), will support renewable generation development by providing more potential interconnection locations and transmission capacity for renewable energy generators.[iii]
Finally, Clean Line Energy, a private company based in Houston, Texas, is in the process of developing a significant transmission project across the state known as the “Grain Belt Express Clean Line.” Once constructed, this privately-owned project will provide a 700-mile, 600 kV extra high voltage direct current (“HVDC”) transmission line starting in Kansas and running east through Missouri, enabling Kansas wind to be exported to serve utility customers in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and points farther east. Clean Line anticipates that this project will enable approximately $7 billion of new, renewable energy projects to be built.[iv] Clean Line Energy has set 2018 as the goal for commercial operation of this new transmission line.[v]
As the Figure below illustrates, these new transmission lines are located in the heart of Kansas’ most productive wind areas and provide valuable paths to market for future wind projects in those areas.
Generally speaking, wind speeds increase as turbine heights (referred to as “hub heights”) increase. Since wind speed is the single most important factor in creating electricity out of the wind, tapping into high winds is key to a successful wind project. For this reason, the most noticeable wind turbine technology improvements have focused on taller hub heights and larger rotor diameters. The combination of these improvements have led to significant increases in efficiency, which have resulted in wind farms with higher capacity factors or similar capacity factors in areas with lesser winds or lower elevations.
Wind speeds have historically been measured at 50 meters for wind farm development. However, utility-scale wind turbine hub heights have been significantly higher than 50 meters for many years (as an example, the Gray County wind farm, built in 2001, has a hub height of 65 meters).
On average, Kansas possesses a robust wind resource at a height of 50 meters. However, as the Figure below illustrates, at a height of 80 meters, roughly half the state experiences average wind speeds between 8 and 9 meters per second,[vi] which is well above the 7 to 8 meters per second commonly found at a height of 50 meters.
Given that wind speed increases with an increase in altitude, there has been a trend across the wind industry to erect turbines with taller hub heights. As seen in the Figure below, over the last decade, hub heights across the country have steadily increased from an average of approximately 60 meters in 2001 to 81 meters in 2011.[vii]
As technology continues to improve, and construction costs for these towers decrease, it is probable that 100 meter hub heights will become common for wind projects in Kansas. This trend towards taller hub heights is evidenced by the fact that, in 2011, 128 turbines were installed in the United States with hub heights of 100 meters, a sharp increase over the 17 turbines of that size installed in 2010.[viii] The following Figure provides some context to the significant technological advances that have occurred over the last decade.[ix]
As the average hub heights for Kansas projects increase from the current average of 80 meters, access to high-quality wind resources will increase and more locations in Kansas will be economically viable. As shown in Figure 8, the wind speeds available at 100 meters are predominantly in the range of 8.5 to 9.5 meters per second.
Ultimately, the combination of an expanding transmission infrastructure and technological advancements will significantly expand the areas of the state that can support viable wind development.
If you have any questions or comments about the Kansas wind industry, please feel free to leave a comment below or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (913)234-7416.
[i] Edison Electric Institute, ITC Holdings, Corp. Company Overview, available at http://www.eei.org/ourissues/electricitytransmission/documents/transprojrenew_e-m.pdf.
[ii] ITC Great Plains Kansas Spearville-Axtell project profile, http://www.itc-holdings.com/images/itc-greatplains/projects/ITCGP_Profile_KETA_Gen_52311.pdf
[iii] Edison Electric Institute, ITC Holdings, Corp. Company Overview, available at http://www.eei.org/ourissues/electricitytransmission/documents/transprojrenew_e-m.pdf.
[iv] Clean Line Energy Partners Website, Grain Belt Express Clean Line Project Description, available at http://www.grainbeltexpresscleanline.com/site/page/project_description.
[v] Clean Line Energy Partners Website, Grain Belt Express Clean Line Schedule, available at http://www.grainbeltexpresscleanline.com/site/page/schedule.
[vi] Kansas Wind map at 80-m Height, Wind Powering America, U.S. Department of Energy, September 2008, available at http://www.windpoweringamerica.gov/pdfs/wind_maps/ks_80m.pdf.
[vii] U.S. Department of Energy, 2011 Wind Technologies Market Report, August 2012, available at http://www1.eere.energy.gov/wind/pdfs/2011_wind_technologies_market_report.pdf.
[ix] Lantz, E.; Wiser, R.; Hand, M. (2012). IEA Wind Task 26: The Past and Future Cost of Wind Energy, Work Package 2, available at http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy12osti/53510.pdf.