Battle over Grain Belt Express doesn't end with latest approval

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COLUMBIA - While the controversial Grain Belt Express moved one step forward this week, critics and supporters say tough battles still lie ahead.

After years of rejection and delays, the electric transmission line, which would transport wind energy through four states, was approved 5-0 by the Missouri Public Service Commission. 

It said the project would benefit the state in the short and long term. 

KOMU 8 reported two landowners associations already plan to appeal the decision. 

It is the furthest the project has come in its goal of stretching the transmission line through eight Missouri counties.

The 780-mile transmission line would go through Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. The project would make available 500 megawatts of energy for Missouri utilities.

The $2.35 billion project still needs regulators’ approval in Kansas and Illinois.

Additionally, it needs the okay from the commissioners of the eight Missouri counties the line would traverse: Buchanan, Clinton, Caldwell, Carroll, Chariton, Randolph, Monroe, and Ralls.

“If all eight counties were to give it the thumbs down, the battles are all gonna be fought up inside the courts,” said John Truesdell, presiding commissioner of Randolph County.

He described the plan as “flawed” in its financing.

“Is wind energy as produced from Grain Belt clean line, going to be so much cheaper than anything else? And the answer is no,” Truesdell said. “It’s certainly not the least expensive."

Ewell Lawson, the Missouri Public Utility Alliance's vice president of governmental affairs, disagreed and said the project could help save money by displacing mostly coal energy. 

“This new energy source is the lowest cost power we’re able to find on the market to bring to our customers,” he said. 

The MPUA calculated cities could collectively save about $12.8 million annually for the first 20 years. They predict the Grain Belt will be operating by 2023. 

Lawson said it’s difficult to speculate how much that would save a person on their power bills each year. He said it’s difficult to municipal utilities to predict the savings per person, because there are several other outside factors that determine costs.