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Proposed Grain Belt Express transmission line through Ralls Co. sparks debate  

Credit:  Trevor McDonald, Hannibal Courier-Post reporter | Posted Apr. 14, 2015 | www.hannibal.net ~~

From turbine-filled wind farms to an interstate transmission line, a new project from Clean Line Energy Partners promises to move renewable electricity on a massive scale and add a converter station in Ralls County, but it hasn’t yet received widespread support in Missouri.

Supporters and opponents of the proposal are making their points clear, following additional information submitted to the Missouri Public Service Commission on April 13.

The Grain Belt Express Clean Line is one of five high-voltage, direct current transmission line projects from Houston, Texas-based Clean Line Energy Partners. The $2 billion, 780-mile project would use overhead transmission lines suspended from towers to send electricity from western Kansas to Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and states to the east. Plans show the transmission line and towers traversing the entirety of northern Missouri. Some Missouri landowners have signed up for the project, but the project hasn’t yet met the approval of a majority of county governments or landowners in the proposed path.

The proposed path was designed to make as little impact as possible, Clean Line Energy Director of Development Mark Lawlor said.

The current path for the Grain Belt Express Clean Line in Missouri is approximately 206 miles long in Missouri, passing through Buchanan, Clinton, Caldwell, Carroll, Chariton, Randolph, Monroe and Ralls counties.

Clean Line Energy received approval from regulatory groups in Kansas and Indiana. Missouri’s Public Service Commission is currently reviewing an application from Clean Line. The commission requested additional information by April 11 including a list of property easements that were acquired and easements not yet acquired. The commission will review the information before granting approval of a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity to construct the transmission line.

On April 10, Clean Line Energy submitted a notice that they were not legally required to submit information over the weekend. The commission received the report Monday, April 13, said Jennifer Gatrel, Vice President of Block Grain Belt Express – a group of Missouri farmers, landowners and residents opposing the project.

Block Grain Belt Express aims to stop the use of eminent domain to land in the Grain Belt Express Clean Line’s path. Eminent domain can occur at the state or federal level for utility projects such as the Grain Belt Express.

According to the report Clean Line Energy provided to the commission, the company received signed easement agreements for 45 tracts of property, and representatives contacted 409 of the 525 individual landowners along the proposed route. Clean Line Energy stated in its report that “large-scale acquisition of easements” generally occurs after regulatory approval is granted for transmission line proposals.

Clean Line Energy’s report also states the Ralls County Commission sent a letter dated March 24, 2014, which “retracts and denies” its assent to the project “[u]ntil such time that Grain Belt Express Clean Line LLC has utility status in Missouri and the approval of the Missouri Public Service Commission.” The Ralls County Commission previously approved the transmission line proposal Aug. 23, 2012, according to the report.

Lawlor said the project will employ Missourians and will use “hundreds of millions of dollars” worth of equipment and materials from Missouri companies, including transformers from ABB in St. Louis, wind turbine components from Able Manufacturing Assembly in Joplin and conductors from General Cable.

The proposed transmission line would carry 500 megawatts of electricity, enough juice to power 200,000 homes, although not all of that power will be sent to Missouri. The line will connect to a converter station in Ralls County, allowing the potential to hook into existing parts of Missouri’s power grid, Lawlor said.

The project would provide electricity to Ralls County and the rest of Missouri, and any utility provider can access the power, Lawlor said.

Ralls County Assessor Tom Ruhl approves the proposal, which he acknowledges is a controversial topic. Ruhl and two brothers own family farmland, and he said he understands the concerns from fellow landowners.

“Nobody should be forced to give up their property or be forced to sell it for less than the market value,” Ruhl said.

But eminent domain would complete the process, because it’s designed to make projects possible that “benefit mankind,” Ruhl said.

Because of his prior experience in “smokestack industries” and their subsequent conversions to alternative fuel sources, Ruhl believes that the Grain Belt Express Clean Line will provide environmental and financial benefits.

He said the proposed converter station in Ralls County allows connections north and south to existing power grids. The proposal would give utilities the ability to move power to communities all over the country, potentially eliminating brownouts.

Additionally, Ruhl said the proposal would generate between $950,000 and $1.3 million in tax revenue for the R-2 School District.

However, landowners and county government officials are not all on board with the proposal.

Ralls County Presiding Commissioner Wiley Hibbard compared the proposal to a one-way highway from Kansas to Pennsylvania, where the highway builders want to condemn land in Missouri for construction. He wasn’t impressed with the blueprint that Clean Line Energy Partners submitted to the Public Service Commission.

“It makes no sense to me,” Hibbard said.

Hibbard said the 200-foot tall towers for the transmission lines would be about two-and-a-half times the height of the New London water tower.

Hibbard said the converter station would make more sense if it were constructed in a more heavily populated part of Missouri, such as metropolitan Kansas City or St. Louis.

He also opposed supporting overseas investments that affect Ralls County landowners. Out-of-country investors own 40 percent of Clean Line Energy Partners, Hibbard said.

Ralls County residents have met in opposition to the Grain Belt Express Clean Line for more than a year. So far, landowners who opposed the plan in Ralls and Marion counties have paid more than $65,000 in legal fees for lawyers and testimony.

Lawlor said the project will employ Missourians and will use “hundreds of millions of dollars” worth of equipment and materials from Missouri companies, including transformers from ABB in St. Louis, wind turbine components from Able Manufacturing Assembly in Joplin and conductors from General Cable.

The proposed transmission line would carry 500 megawatts of electricity, enough juice to power 200,000 homes, although not all of that power will be sent to Missouri. The line will connect to a converter station in Ralls County, allowing the potential to hook into existing parts of Missouri’s power grid, Lawlor said.

The project would provide electricity to Ralls County and the rest of Missouri, and any utility provider can access the power, Lawlor said.

Ralls County Assessor Tom Ruhl approves the proposal, which he acknowledges is a controversial topic. Ruhl and two brothers own family farmland, and he said he understands the concerns from fellow landowners.

“Nobody should be forced to give up their property or be forced to sell it for less than the market value,” Ruhl said.

But eminent domain would complete the process, because it’s designed to make projects possible that “benefit mankind,” Ruhl said.

Because of his prior experience in “smokestack industries” and their subsequent conversions to alternative fuel sources, Ruhl believes that the Grain Belt Express Clean Line will provide environmental and financial benefits.

He said the proposed converter station in Ralls County allows connections north and south to existing power grids. The proposal would give utilities the ability to move power to communities all over the country, potentially eliminating brownouts.

Additionally, Ruhl said the proposal would generate between $950,000 and $1.3 million in tax revenue for the R-2 School District.

However, landowners and county government officials are not all on board with the proposal.

Ralls County Presiding Commissioner Wiley Hibbard compared the proposal to a one-way highway from Kansas to Pennsylvania, where the highway builders want to condemn land in Missouri for construction. He wasn’t impressed with the blueprint that Clean Line Energy Partners submitted to the Public Service Commission.

“It makes no sense to me,” Hibbard said.

Hibbard said the 200-foot tall towers for the transmission lines would be about two-and-a-half times the height of the New London water tower.

Hibbard said the converter station would make more sense if it were constructed in a more heavily populated part of Missouri, such as metropolitan Kansas City or St. Louis.

He also opposed supporting overseas investments that affect Ralls County landowners. Out-of-country investors own 40 percent of Clean Line Energy Partners, Hibbard said.

Ralls County residents have met in opposition to the Grain Belt Express Clean Line for more than a year. So far, landowners who opposed the plan in Ralls and Marion counties have paid more than $65,000 in legal fees for lawyers and testimony.

Source:  Trevor McDonald, Hannibal Courier-Post reporter | Posted Apr. 14, 2015 | www.hannibal.net

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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