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New Electric Transmission Lines Are Needed Across Kansas, Missouri

A photograph of high voltage transmission lines under a blue, mostly clear sky.

Officials in both Kansas and Missouri are looking to update big power transmission lines that can transport electricity within and across state lines. Experts say an improved grid is critical to enhance reliable electric service. Commentator Scott Carlberg says the main concern is not so much the physical structures, but the process and the politics behind building them.


New Electric Transmission Lines Are Needed
By Scott Carlberg

Kansas has built a healthy amount of solar and wind energy. Not without controversy. However, siting solar and wind is child’s play compared to the debate to update our electric transmission grid. The question: Who builds it?

Nationally, the average transmission line – those big lines – is more than four decades old and shows strain. Power outages over the six years before 2023 more than doubled compared to the previous six years, according to a national Reuters analysis.

A modern transmission system can tap innovative smart grid technology and reduce outages as we electrify our lives even more.

About 60% of our national power transmission is coordinated by regional transmission organizations. Kansas is in the Southwest Power Pool, which is tasked with providing a “…reliable supply of power, adequate transmission infrastructure, and competitive wholesale electricity prices.” This is for more than half-a-million square miles and more than 70,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines.

However, the regional organizations don’t build new lines. They can plan and propose them. Depending on the size and the location of the lines, particularly if the lines are all within a single state, state regulators permit new lines and typically allow utilities to bundle those costs into the customer rates. State regulators hold hearings to gather input from the public and experts.

Local utilities do not necessarily build new regional transmission lines. Some states allow other companies to bid on big transmission projects, using competition to drive down costs and increase innovation. Other states automatically allow local utilities the right to say that they will do the work. There may not be a timeline to build, however, and that can stall progress. Kansas government officials have debated the issue. So far, competition for regional projects continues, though the debate continues, too.

One power analyst says, “The politics are a freakin’ nightmare.” That's an under-statement.

Politicians may want low electric rates, at least while they are in office. Regulators balance reliability, safety, and cost. Citizens ask why Kansas power may go elsewhere. And utilities must file a plan, approved by the regulators, and that accounts for customer needs in the future.

Add to that the mobilization of special interest groups and citizens with property concerns, and it is, well... a freakin’ nightmare.

By 2040, we need new interregional transmission to move power and build energy resilience, says the U.S. Energy Department. That time goes in a contentious blink of an eye with our current system.

Our nation and our state need more decision-making efficiency. The regional transmission system operators need strong, long-term regional plans with processes to account for customer needs, engineering, and costs. Local companies can build a significant part of transmission for local needs. Large regional lines should be open for local and national companies, as cost-effective as possible with a competitive bidding process. Expedite all the procedures, with protections for landowners, to get this show on the road and secure our energy future.

Our grid must be smarter, and so should we.

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Commentator Scott Carlberg has more than 40 years of experience in energy industry communications. He has worked in the oil, gas, and electricity industry and for nonprofit, research, and higher education organizations. He lives in Leawood.