Kansas utility seeks exemption to Oklahoma oversight: Tulsa OK World, 7/10/07

Associated Press

A Kansas company has filed a request with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission that would allow it to claim eminent domain when it builds transmission lines in the state.

The Corporation Commission said the request by Topeka-based ITC Great Plains LLC, an electric transmission developer, took the unusual step of asking for exemption from ratemaking oversight. The request notes the company is asking for the exemption because it does not serve customers directly.

"It would appear at this point this is a new frontier," commission spokesman Matt Skinner said. "I can say for the record that no one here remembers anyone filing something like this before."

A spokesman for Oklahoma Gas and Electric said that if the Corporation Commission approves the request, it could hurt existing utilities in Oklahoma and raise rates.

"As a matter of policy, does the state want to grant eminent domain to a company based outside the state that may not be required to keep the best interests of Oklahomans in mind?" OG&E spokesman Brian Alford said.

ITC Great Plains acquired utility status in Kansas in June and is applying for that status in Texas with that state's Public Utility Commission.

ITC Great Plains' president, Carl Huslig, said the company's desire is to provide a "nondiscriminatory" electric pipeline open to any generator or load.

"We are solely focused on transmission," Huslig said. "That means we want to own it, construct it, maintain it and operate it for the life of the project. We are not a company that's here to build it in five years to sell it for financial gain."

The company is seeking to fill a niche as governments and utilities look for ways to transport energy from windy, rural areas with little transmission capacity to population centers.

"It's just an evolutionary process, and now is the point where parties such as ITC Great Plains are finding a niche in the market," said Les Dillahunty, the vice president of Southwest Power Pool, an association of officials and utilities from seven states that coordinates transmission expansion. ITC Great Plains is a new member of that association.

Building a transmission line would require cooperation from landowners, and Huslig said ITC Great Plains would attempt to negotiate with landowners before resorting to the use of eminent domain.

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