Area residents for and against an electric transmission line proposed for Northwest Missouri had equal chances to express their opinions at a Wednesday night hearing.
Clean Line Energy Partners, a private firm based in Houston, is seeking to construct a 700-mile, 3,500-megawatt direct current line across the region. The route of the Grain Belt Express would begin at a southwest Kansas wind farm before extending eastward into Indiana and serve Atlantic states. The company has submitted its proposal before the Missouri Public Service Commission, which will issue a decision on the plan after the end of public hearings and other in-depth testimony scheduled for later this year.
One of the local public hearings – the sixth of eight – was held at the Moila Shriners Ballroom in St. Joseph. All five members of the PSC attended the session, listening intently to testimony that will be reviewed as part of the process. A final decision is unlikely before the end of the year, according to PSC spokesman Greg Ochoa.
Before the hearing, Regulatory Law Judge Michael Bushmann told the audience the commission can’t issue any decisions on questions regarding eminent domain – the right to take private property for a certain use with compensation. Mr. Bushmann said those matters would be reserved for the courts. The question of eminent domain in gaining property to construct the line has been a central theme among opponents.
Speakers were limited to less than five minutes to offer their opinions on Grain Belt. Several St. Joseph Police officers stood by to provide any needed security, amid a project that has elicited strong emotions on both sides.
Those who favor the project said it will benefit the area through a cleaner energy source and added jobs for economic development. James R. Turner, a member of the Sierra Club from Kansas City, asked the commission to approve the construction.
“The Clean Line will make a big contribution to wind energy” and eliminate the need for fossil fuels that damage the environment, he said.
Joe Spease of Overland Park, Kan., said the line would lower utility prices.
“We’re talking about costs of energy that will be desirable across the country,” he told the commission.
But others in the crowd dismissed the idea as harmful to their rural livelihoods and empty of promises to provide power to the state’s residents. They also expressed fears for devalued property, health impacts for humans and livestock, and defacing of pastoral landscapes.
“This Clean Line is coming right by our house,” said Ted Rogers of Faucett, Mo. “It’s putting out so much power, nobody knows what it’s going to do. Buchanan County’s not going to get anything.”
Donald Churchill, also of Faucett, criticized the transmission model too.
“They’re going to give very few Missourians electricity from this,” he said.
Rounds of applause greeted both sides of the argument. Some addressed the commission extemporaneously, while others chose to read directly from prepared statements. Many Grain Belt opponents wore green shirts or green stickers to signify their disdain for the idea.
The final two public hearings are set for today in Hamilton and Carrollton. Earlier hearings were held in northeast Missouri. Formal evidentiary hearings will be held in Jefferson City in November.
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