Grain Belt Express president meets with supporters

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RANDOLPH COUNTY - Representatives from the Grain Belt Express Clean Line met with local landowners Monday to review their plans for a $2 billion project aimed at moving wind energy across the Midwest.

The proposed project, the Grain Belt Express, has been met with both support and opposition since Clean Line submitted an application to the Missouri Public Service Commission in March 2014. Clean Line will need the commission's approval before it can build, own and operate the 750-mile transmission line that would pass through Missouri. But the commission's approval is just one step Clean Line must take. Clean Line must receive approval from all four of the states the line would run through — Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana —  before it can move forward.

Clean Line Energy President Michael Skelly visited landowners and fielded questions from them Monday. He said Clean Line is still receiving questions about the logistics of the Grain Belt Express.

"The line begins in western Kansas, where we have some of the best wind energy in the country," he said. "It will move wind powered electricity all the way across to central Missouri."

Opponents of the Grain Belt Express power lines cite health and visual issues, as well as concerns about how the lines would impact planting. In previous KOMU 8 News reporting, opponents told reporters they had concern with the line impacting day-to-day farming activities. A group of opponents have formed the Block Grain Belt Express - Missouri.

But Skelly expects the line to bring enough energy to power 200,000 Missouri homes. The energy would then continue east to Illinois and Indiana. The line would be a high-voltage, direct-current transmission line (HVDC).

"We're going to deliver a lot of clean energy," he said. "As we move the country toward a cleaner energy mix we're going to be part of the infrastructure to make that happen. Along with that comes a lot of economic development from building the project."

Skelly said farmers would be able to graze livestock and farm underneath the line, if it is approved and constructed. He said Clean Line will pay landowners for the use of their land if the transmission line is built. The landowners will also be eligible for additional compensation as development continues, according to Skelly.

Monday, Skelly met with Moberly farmer and landowner Wayne Wilcox at his nearly 400-acre ranch. Wilcox said he began attending the public forums when the company started hosting them last year and that Clean Line leadership has been receptive to his suggestions thus far. The line would pass through the northern part of Wilcox's farm, and he said he doesn't think the line will disrupt his farming or his view.

"I'm in favor of the project," he said. "When a project like this needs to cross your land, if the people treat you fairly, you need to try and cooperate with them."

Wilcox is in favor of the project because he believes the the tax revenue generated from the power line would benefit the school district. He served on the Renick school board for 18 years. 

The next step is for the Missouri Public Service Commission to approve or deny the project. There is no timetable set for that decision. 

[Editor's note: This story has been updated to include additional background and information]