Driving through western Kansas, you'll see hundreds of whirling wind turbines. But you won't see lots of people — or high-voltage power lines.
And that is the big obstacle to realizing the wind-energy potential of Kansas and the Midwest: You can put up all the towers and turbines you like, but without more transmission lines, the added electricity won't get to the cities that could use it.
Those lines will take years to build and cost tens of billions of dollars — if they are built at all.
"It's a showstopper for renewable development," said Ralph Cavanaugh, co-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group with 1.3 million members.
The national power grid is a mishmash because much of it was built to serve utilities' individual territories. That left the country with high-powered lines serving big populations in the East and West — but not connected to the windy corridor from the Dakotas to Texas.
The big transmission projects that could make those connections have to be approved by regional power pools operating under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. That gives clout to the pools' members — utilities, power cooperatives and energy producers and marketers — but in return, they help pay for the projects.
Kansas is ranked third among the states for wind energy potential, and it hopes to expand its 1,000 megawatts of wind energy to 7,000 megawatts in the next 20 years. But recently the state saw the difficulty of moving forward with its plans.
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