Wolf Creek cost $3 billion. Now they want us to pay to send nuclear power out of state

A Florida company wants to build an $85 million power line to carry electricity from the Wolf Creek nuclear plant at Burlington to Missouri.

And they want Kansas electric customers to pay for part of that.

We shouldn’t have to pay anything.

If anything, they should be the ones paying us.

The proposal now at the Kansas Corporation Commission would allow NextEra Energy, based in Palm Beach County, to build a 94-mile high-voltage line linking Wolf Creek to the Blackberry Substation in Jasper County, Missouri.

From there, the electricity generated would flow to other states through the Southwest Power Pool, which distributes electricity to utilities in 14 states.

The SPP initially proposed the project as part of a plan to more efficiently distribute Kansas wind energy across the power pool.

It was SPP that bid the project out and picked NextEra as the company to build, own and operate the Wolf Creek-Blackberry transmission line.

That benefits SPP and NextEra, but whether it’s a fair deal for Kansas consumers is highly questionable.

There’s a ton of history here being ignored.

Wolf Creek was originally a project of three utilities: Wichita-based Kansas Gas and Electric and Kansas City Power & Light each owned 47% and the much smaller Kansas Electric Power Cooperative owned 6%.

Construction started in 1977 and Wolf Creek was supposed to cost $1 billion. But it had to be rebuilt after the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear disaster and it cost $3 billion by the time it opened in 1985.

Those costs were repaid over decades by customers of KGE and KCP&L. It was particularly egregious for KGE customers.

After KGE merged in 1992 with Topeka-based Kansas Power and Light to create Western Resources, later Westar Energy, the commission kept the rates separate so the former KPL customers wouldn’t have to share the cost of the nuclear plant.

Over 17 long years, former KGE customers in southern Kansas paid an estimated $750 million in higher rates because of Wolf Creek.

Then in 2009, when the Wolf Creek debt was finally paid and southern Kansas started enjoying lower electric rates than their northern cousins, the commission reversed course and decided Westar was all one big happy company after all and should have the same rates across both divisions.

That ruling came just in time for the ex-KGE customers to help pay for required environmental upgrades to what had been KPL coal plants.

And now, after years of higher rates to pay off Wolf Creek debt, the customers who were KGE and KCP&L — now under the Evergy umbrella — are expected to share in the cost of a new transmission line to more efficiently ship Wolf Creek power out of state.

That’s a travesty.

Several of Kansas’ largest industrial power users are asking the right questions: Is this really necessary? and Does this comply with state policy requiring that such projects actually benefit Kansas ratepayers?

But the commission is limiting their input, so it’s up in the air whether those questions will be asked and if SPP and NextEra will have to answer under oath.

The economic study that NextEra provided on purported benefits to Kansas is laughable.

After an initial construction period, the project is expected to create six new jobs.

During construction, the project estimate is 988 jobs for two years. But those won’t be Kansas jobs.

NextEra has already contracted with a South Dakota construction company to build the line.

They’ll no doubt bring in their own crew from out of state, who will stay in motels and trailers along the route for a couple years and move on to the next project as soon as this one’s done.

Meanwhile, NextEra will be laughing all the way to the beach.