Missouri regulators appear poised to scuttle a transmission line that backers say would transmit thousands of megawatts of wind power from the Kansas plains to homes and businesses further east.
The so-called “Grain Belt Express” transmission line is one of several proposed by independent transmission developer Clean Line Energy, of Houston. It has already won regulatory approval in Kansas and Indiana for the project, and it is still waiting on Missouri and Illinois.
Only two Missouri Public Service Commissioners signaled support for Grain Belt. The other three signaled they would oppose the line in a formal vote at one of the PSC’s next meetings.
The line crosses 724 tracts of land in the state, and if the PSC grants it public utility status, it could use eminent domain to acquire easements it can’t buy. Hundreds of rural landowners have taken to social media, committee meetings in the Legislature and PSC hearings to voice their opposition to the project.
“We’re thrilled,” said Jennifer Gatrel, who heads the group Block Grain Belt Express. “We think this is a great win for representative democracy, grassroots activism and landowner rights.”
Grain Belt has been in the works for years in response to the growing demand for wind power. Of the 4,000 megawatts of power the line could carry, the company says up to 500 megawatts could be offloaded to the grid in Missouri.
Some commissioners expressed concern Tuesday that it would be a more expensive form of energy. Commissioner Bill Kenney, who said he plans to vote against construction, cast doubts on the economic impact it would have in the state.
“I do not see the benefit to Missourians,” Kenney said.
The issue is bigger than Missouri or the Grain Belt project in particular, said Mark Lawlor, Clean Line’s director of development. The country is trying to figure out how to reduce carbon pollution linked to climate change under new federal regulations, which many say will require a large buildout of transmission infrastructure.
“How do we get stuff built?” Lawlor said. “If the ‘no’ was because people didn’t like it, landowners didn’t like it, then how are we going to build transmission? It kind of goes beyond this one project.”
If the PSC does reject the project, Lawlor said Clean Line won’t give up. It could pursue federal eminent domain authority through the Energy Department, an approach it is pursuing in Arkansas after the state declined to approve another of its routes.
“These projects are too valuable and too much in demand (to walk away from),” Lawlor said. “We remain confident in their value and we’ll look at everything we can.”
At the same meeting, the PSC approved a 7-mile transmission project between Palmyra and the Mississippi River proposed by Ameren Transmission, the final leg of its 380-mile Illinois Rivers project across that state. It is scheduled to be complete in 2018.
Last week, Ameren Transmission asked for PSC approval for a 100-mile transmission project across Northeast Missouri, scheduled to be complete by 2019. The company hopes for a decision by January.
“Wind power is one of our main reasons for those power lines as well,” said Peggy Ladd, Ameren Transmission’s director of stakeholder relations.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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