State commission denies proposed wind energy line through Missouri

8 months 1 week 2 hours ago Wednesday, August 16 2017 Aug 16, 2017 Wednesday, August 16, 2017 11:35:00 AM CDT August 16, 2017 in News
By: The Associated Press, Nick Allen, KOMU 8 Reporter, and Kristen Reesor, KOMU 8 Digital Producer
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JEFFERSON CITY – The Missouri Public Service Commission denied grant approval of the Grain Belt Express Clean Line that would have transported wind-generated energy through about 200 miles of the state.

The decision Wednesday by the Missouri Public Service Commission creates a significant hurdle for Clean Line Energy Partners, which wants to build one of the nation's longest transmission lines.

All the other states along its route already have granted approval. The line would run from Kansas through Missouri and Illinois to Indiana, where it would connect with a power grid for eastern states.

Missouri regulators initially rejected the project in 2015, while questioning its benefits and burden on landowners.

This time, the regulatory commission cited a recent state appeals court ruling that said utilities must first get consent from affected counties before state approval can be granted.

Clean Line lacks local approval from several counties in its path.

Grain Belt Express states the commission's decision is "devastating for Missouri workers who will be deprived of good paying local jobs and Missouri rate payers who will lose more than $200 million in energy savings."

At Wednesday's meeting, the commission's chairman said there was demand for renewable wind energy because some Missouri cities signed up for up to 100 megawatts, and there was evidence people would see savings to their electric bills if the line proceeded.

The chairman continued, "Unfortunately because of the structure of this commission and the legal structure in this state, we were unable to act in the public interest.”

The president of Clean Line Energy said, “Today’s ruling is inconsistent with good government and sound public policy, and it is our hope that moving forward Missouri will work to remove barriers to building new critical infrastructure projects.”

Missouri’s Department of Economic Development estimated the project would create more than 1,500 jobs in the state. 

PAR Electrical Contractors, Inc. was selected to build the transmission line. The president said he is also disappointed in the ruling. He said the construction would create opportunity for 600 Missouri based employees.

Despite support for the transmission line from many parties, some residents in the proposed area of the line were not in favor of its construction. Some homeowners in the affected area previously told KOMU 8 News, "This is an unknown entity that we are being asked to give up our private property rights for, and it's also a private company, which eminent domain was never meant to support."

A sign reading "NO Eminent Domain For Private Gain" was at one point posted in a yard along rural Route NN a little south of Moberly. The entire proposed route can be viewed online.

Missouri small farmers like Jennifer Gatrel, who vehemently opposed the transmission line, say the Grain Belt Express could never get approval from all the counties it requires.

She said this is an issue of property rights, and the coalition of small farmers across the state will always fight against large businesses like Grain Belt Express. 

"Grain Belt was a private company that wanted the right to force landowners to host massive transmission lines against their will. If this had passed, it would have set a massive precedent that other big companies can come in and do whatever they want with land that isn't theirs," Gatrel said.

The Missouri Farm Bureau released a statement on Wednesday's decision. It said the bureau supports the commission's choice denying the energy line and its proposed use of eminent domain. 

But, it added, "We are concerned with issues raised by some commissioners who expressed disappointment in a related court ruling requiring consent by all affected counties.  Missouri Farm Bureau will seek to strengthen protections restricting the use of eminent domain power.”

Other residents in the proposed construction area said wind energy is less effective than previously thought, and some expressed concerns that the power would not benefit local farmers.

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