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Committee defeats Missouri House bill that would stop wind energy project

When the Missouri House Energy and Environment Committee on Tuesday voted down a bill that would have prohibited the use of eminent domain for Grain Belt Express Clean Line’s proposed wind power transmission project, company officials said the bill’s rejection amounted to a show of support for the project.

The committee voted down HB 1027, sponsored by Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Frankford.

“With the vote this morning Missouri lawmakers have demonstrated that they stand behind market based solutions to bring low-cost, renewable energy to the state,” said Mark Lawlor, director of development for Clean Line Energy. He touted the Grain Belt project, which will bisect the southern portion of Randolph County, as a project to deliver enough low-cost clean power to Missouri through a direct connection to the electric grid to power 200,000 homes.

“This project is very important to Missouri’s energy future,” Lawlor said in a prepared statement.

But Hansen and opponents of the project view the House committee’s vote differently.

“Grain Belt can call it a victory,” Hansen said. “I don’t call it a loss, that’s for sure. It could have been about Grain Belt. It could have been about X-Y-Z.”

Hansen said his bill was meant to bring attention to how companies obtain eminent domain authority in Missouri, and he said the proposal for a 780-mile transmission line to carry direct current from wind farms in Kansas through Missouri and Illinois to eastern Indiana was the only project currently in the works.

Hansen pointed out the bill was rejected by a committee, not the full legislature, and he suggested future legislation will be needed to deal with companies that propose projects similar to the Grain Belt plan.

The project still must meet approval from the Public Service Commission, which asked for additional information and documentation from Clean Line Energy after receiving initial filings and testimony from supporters and opponents of the project.

Grain Belt officials said the project will create hundreds of jobs in Missouri, pay millions of dollars per year in property taxes to counties hosting the line, and provide Missourians with low-cost, clean energy for decades to come.

The PSC staff has recommended the commission deny the application for a certificate of convenience and necessity – the authority that Grain Belt needs to build and operate the transmission line that would carry wind-generated power from Kansas to Indiana through Missouri and Illinois.

In addition, five of the eight counties affected by the power line project have rescinded support they had previously given Grain Belt. Dozens of homeowners and farmers along the proposed transmission route – and organizations including the Missouri Farm Bureau – have spoken against the plan, citing potential negative effects on property values, health and quality of life.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce, Hubbell Power Systems in Centralia and the Columbia City Council support the project.

Hansen said committee members preferred to see how the Grain Belt proposal plays out before the PSC – an option he doesn’t disagree with.

“I have nothing against their project or their people. I’m concerned about the process. It’s the process we have to get right for our state and our citizens,” Hansen said. “We’re flyover country on this project. This is not designed to deliver energy to Missouri.”