Farmers, clean energy proponents clash after court rules on wind energy project

5 months 12 hours 8 minutes ago Wednesday, July 18 2018 Jul 18, 2018 Wednesday, July 18, 2018 3:37:00 PM CDT July 18, 2018 in News
By: David Estrada, KOMU 8 Reporter
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JEFFERSON CITY – Different sides reacted Wednesday to the Missouri Supreme Court's ruling in favor of a wind energy project. 

In a unanimous decision, the Missouri Supreme Court sent the case involving the Grain Belt Express back to the Public Service Commission.

The commission denied the project permission to move forward in 2017, saying the plan needed approval from the counties it cut through before continuing. 

Leslie Holloway, Senior Director of Regulatory Affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau, said the organization opposes the project. Holloway said a private company should not have the power to take property along the route in order to build a transmission line.

"We are opposed to granting the power of eminent domain to a group of private investors from out of state who are wanting to run this major transmission line through the state, not to serve Missouri customers but to provide wind power to costumers in the East Coast," she said.

The Missouri Public Utility Alliance (MPUA) argued the project would provide power to Missourians.

Ewell Lawson, Vice President of Government Affairs, Communications and Members Relations for MPUA, said the Grain Belt Express Clean Line would benefit 35 cities who are part of the Missouri Public Energy Pool, as well as Columbia, Centralia, Hannibal and Kirkwood.

"MPUA and the Missouri Joint Municipal Electric Utility Commission and its members have entered into a contract with some wind providers to utilize this transmission line that would bring low cost, affordable energy into the state of Missouri," Lawson said. "We see that that would provide little over a ten-million-dollars savings to our customers annually in the coming years."

Lawson said the transmission project would bring additional renewable energy into the state of Missouri.

"Many of our cities have landfill gas, they have wind, they have solar and they have hydro-facility power coming into each of those cities," he said. "This just adds to a more diverse portfolio in supplying our customers."

Holloway pointed out existing wind power projects in Missouri.

"This project is not going to determine, one way or the other, whether or not there is wind power," she said. "This is just one project of several, in fact Ameren has just announced the largest wind power project in Missouri. There is plenty of wind power being generated and being transmitted."

Holloway said the Grain Belt Express Clean Line could affect farming activities in the state.

"Any type of activity that a transmission line might be placed in the middle of is going to make it more difficult for that farmer or rancher to do what they need to do on a daily basis, in addition to which it would cost more," she said. "Time is money, so whatever types of adjustments they have to make to their normal management practices is definitely and adverse impact."

Back in 2017, the Missouri Public Service Commission denied an application filed by Grain Belt Express Clean Line LLC (GBE) seeking Commission authority and a certificate of convenience and necessity (CCN) to construct, own, operate, control, manage and maintain a high voltage, direct current transmission line and associated facilities.

According to a press release from the Commission, "it determined it lacked the statutory authority to grant a CCN because GBE failed to obtain all county assents necessary for a CCN as required by a Missouri Western District Court of Appeals decision in a Ameren Transmission Company of Illinois (ATXI) CCN case."

In a concurring opinion issued alone with the Commission's order, four of the five commissioners indicated they would have approved the GRE application if Grain Belt Express Clean Line LLC had met its burden of proof demonstrating it had obtained the required assents.

The same press release said "four of the five commissioners found there was a need for the service offered by the GBE project, that GBE was qualified to provide the proposed service, that GBE had the financial ability to provide the service, that GBE's proposal was economically feasible, and that the project would have been in the public interest."

After the Supreme Court sent the case involving the Grain Belt Express back to the Public Service Commission, Holloway said the Missouri Farm Bureau would like to see it deny the request for the project.

"We believe that the Public Service Commission staff has already weighed in in terms of the project not meeting the criteria that are required in order to get approval," she said.

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