Missouri approval for Grain Belt Express power line still uncertain

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JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri Public Service Commission held the first of two formal hearings to determine whether an interstate power transmission project meets requirements of convenience and necessity. 

The hearings come after the Missouri Supreme Court sent back the Grain Belt Express Clean Line case to the commission for its approval. The hearings are a chance for the parties involved to address any changes on the evidence in the case. 

Grain Belt Express' attorney Karl Zobrist said he believed after the hearings the service commission would conclude the project "is both necessary and convenient for the public."

"We believe that this project promotes the public good," he said. "We have the commitment of a major utility, MJMEUC. We provided enhanced landowner protections. We believe we have the support from a variety of Missouri businesses."

Invenergy is seeking to buy the transmission project from Grain Belt Express. The agreements to sell and buy have been signed, but the public service commission would also have to authorize that deal. 

Missouri Landowners Alliance's lawyer Paul Agathen challenged Zobrist's claims, regarding the applicant's (Grain Belt Express) ability to carry on the project. 

"All along Grain Belt has been relying on the qualifications of Clean Line's personnel," Agathen said. 

Missouri Farm Bureau's attorney Brent Haden also challenged the project. He said there could be potential negative effects for farmers, regarding the use of eminent domain. 

"When somebody who's in the middle of harvest, in the middle of planting, in the middle of calving season has to come in and take time to come out of the field, talk to a lawyer they don't want to be talking in the first place, spend their money to get a lawyer they don't want to hire in the first place, to then turn around and fight a battle with a corporation who's taking their land, who shouldn't have that right or that privilege to begin with," he said. 

Invenergy's spokesperson Beth Conley said if the service commissions authorizes the company to buy the transmission project they would make sure to protect the property owners' rights. 

"Invenergy has a long history of developing projects in close coordination and cooperation with landowners, farmers and ranchers across the United States and around the world," she said. "We would bring that same level of commitment to Missouri landowners and Missouri host communities that we have dedicated to every project that we have developed."

Another issue discussed in Tuesday's hearing was the funding for the project. Michael Skelly, Clean Line Energy's board chairman, said the company alone does not have the $3 billion to develop the transmission line and relies on investors, such as Invenergy. 

"Our plan throughout the nine years that we have been working through this has been to bring in resources to the project's efforts as those resources are needed and as the project moves forward," he said. 

Even if the deal with Invenergy doesn't come through, Skelly said he is confident the Grain Belt Express project would still happen. 

"We are moving toward a much cleaner energy mix and the cost of renewable energy continues to drop," he said. 

The second formal hearing would take place on Wednesday. 

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