MOBERLY – With T-shirts and stickers, the opponents of a high-voltage transmission line showed they were organized and their loud applause showed they were the majority during a Public Service Commission hearing Thursday night at Moberly Auditorium.
Concerns about the use of eminent domain, the health risks of electromagnetic fields and the visual appearance of the Grain Belt Express line that would cross Randolph County dominated opposition comments. The appeal of jobs, tax revenue and the distribution of clean energy harvested from wind power highlighted the arguments from supporters.
At stake is certification from the commission that the project qualifies as “public convenience and necessity,” which would give Clean Line Energy the power under state law to compel landowners to grant easements to build the line. The Missouri portion would be part of a 750-mile direct current transmission line from Kansas to Indiana, built on a corridor 200 feet wide.
“Eminent domain is surely not about granting someone with out-of-state and out-of-nation ownership the right to build high-voltage transmission lines that place such a heavy burden on the lives and property of those who live and work in the path or the shadow of this line,” Joe Kroner said.
About 250 people attended the meeting, which lasted more than three hours. Three commissioners were on hand to hear testimony, as were representatives of Clean Line Energy and the Office of Public Counsel. The public hearing is one of four held this week to take testimony.
The Randolph County Commission supports the project, Presiding Commissioner Susan Carter said. “As county commissioners, we must put our personal feelings aside and do what is best for the county now and in the future,” she said. “We cannot say ‘no’ to the tax revenue that will come to the county, mostly to the schools.”
Assessor Richard Tregnago gave the numbers for potential revenue – 21 miles of transmission line through Randolph County would be valued at about $10 million to $11 million for tax purposes, generating $200,000 a year for two school districts.
Clean Line’s towers, at about 200 feet, will be taller than most other transmission lines in the state and taller than all but 28 buildings in Missouri, Cyril Renner of Madison, one of the opposition organizers, said in an interview. The real issue, however, is whether Clean Line will be granted eminent domain to build it.
“I think the heart of the issue is the excesses of government,” he said.
The issue should be whether Missouri will join in a project to provide clean, sustainable power, said Mark Lawlor, development director for Clean Line. The power will be generated at a cost comparable to coal-fired generation, and the portion that would be available to Missouri would power as many as 200,000 homes, he said.
The new lines must be built because the existing long-range grid could not absorb the power that would be generated by the wind farms in Kansas being established to generate the power.
Environmentalists who testified said they support the plan. James Harmon of Kirksville, a member of the executive committee of the Sierra Club’s Missouri Chapter, said it would help Missouri and other states meet the new federal goals for reducing carbon emissions.
Donna Inglis, one of the few landowners who supports the plan, said it was necessary. The arguments about taking land by eminent domain are not worrisome to her, she said. “Had no one in the past been willing to make the sacrifices, we wouldn’t enjoy the many conveniences we have today,” Inglis said.
Several who testified said they worried about a diminished quality of life for people who have lived on the same farm for generations.
“I don’t want to wake up in the morning and look outside of my door and see giant power lines,” John Hobbs of Huntsville said. “I just don’t see what good this is going to do to our community.”
In a letter to the commission, read by physician Dennis Smith, state Rep. John Wright said eminent domain powers should be granted sparingly and questioned whether a line moving power through the state qualified. “Mid Missouri citizens have rightly questioned whether Missouri itself has a compelling interest in this project,” Wright wrote.
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