To say KS. Rep. Gail Finney (D – Wichita) was upset in late 2018 when she first saw the construction of the strange cement pads in the heart of her inner-city Wichita district, would generously be described as an understatement. But it’s difficult to find words for just how upset she was when she found out the pads were the bases for new 105-foot electric transmission lines running through the heart of the community and that the electrical company, had not, and was not required by law to notify anyone about the construction of the lines.
Not one to just sit down and accept things, especially things that negatively impact her constituents, Finney went to work. She immediately called press conferences and set up community meetings with Westar, the company responsible for installing the lines. However, as an elected official, she took another step. She introduced a bill to make sure a similar situation does not occur again in any community in Kansas.
During the 2019 Kansas legislative session, Finney introduced House Bill 2317. The bill puts the Kansas Corporation Commission in charge of approving new electric lines and sets up a hearing process to involve those most affected by the lines process. The bill gained little traction during the 2019 session, but the determined legislator is already hard at work to gain the support of legislators ahead of the 2020 session.
Finney has invited Kansas legislators to attend a tour in her district to see the impact the lines made on the community and to hear more about the bill.
“I’m hoping to give the legislators a first-hand perspective. It’s different when you hear about it or see a picture,” said Finney. “I want them to see something like this could happen anywhere else and that next time it could be in their neighborhood.”
As written, HB 2317 requires electric companies to apply for a “siting” permit before they begin site preparation, it also requires that a public hearing be held to inform those affected by the lines and allow them to get honest answers and to voice their concerns.
Final approval of the electric line route falls to the KCC. However commissioners will be required to take into consideration issues that might be of concern to citizens, including the local aesthetics, location, environment and population density when considering the request.
Under HB2317, the process described would apply to all large transmission lines at least five miles in length bulk transferring 230 kilovolts or more of electricity. In addition, the bill sets up a category “urban electric transmission line” described as a line inside the corporate limits of a city that is at least ¼ mile long and designed for the transfer of 69 kilovolts or more of electricity.