The Missouri Public Service Commission on Wednesday rejected an effort by a utility to build a wind-driven transmission line through the region.
Opponents that include a group of rural Missouri landowners hailed the decision. Supporters had been banking on approval of the plan, which they said was needed to prepare for construction of the multi-state transmission line designed to bring power from southwest Kansas wind farms to the Eastern Seaboard. The line was slated to cut through portions of southern Buchanan County. The PSC held a public hearing in St. Joseph in September.
The commission’s 3-2 vote to deny the Grain Belt Express project’s route stalls the entire 3,500-megawatt direct current overhead line, which already won approval from Kansas and Indiana. However, Houston-based Clean Line Energy – which is organizing the work – still vows to press forward with preparations for the line.
Commissioners said Grain Belt Express failed to meet a burden of proof in seeking the approval, referring to opposition from rural residents who opposed the line on several fronts. The concerns included possible consequences to human and animal health and the use of eminent domain to take private property to enable the construction.
“The commission acknowledges the substantial opposition to the project expressed by business owners, farmers, and individual landowners across whose properties the project was proposed to cross,” the report and order said. “The volume of public comments received in this case demonstrates the level of involvement of individuals who may be affected by this project.”
The document also mentioned impacts such as farmers experiencing problems with soil compaction, interference with irrigation equipment, and difficulty in moving large equipment around proposed utility towers.
“For one landowner who owns a bed and breakfast, the view of that business would be marred for any guests staying at the bed and breakfast,” the report said. “In this case, the evidence shows that any actual benefits to the general public from the project are outweighed by the burdens on affected landowners.”
Transmission line routes must be approved by state regulators, who give the developers the right to use eminent domain if they can’t secure all the property necessary for the lines.
Typically, the developers are utilities and the projects are chosen through a planning process by regional transmission organizations (RTOs) and paid for by all ratepayers across a region.
The company also had pledged to deliver up to 500 megawatts of wind power into Missouri, yet failed to convince regulators it was a benefit to the state.
Environmentalists, on the other hand, supported the line, arguing infrastructure connecting the wind-rich Great Plains to population centers was necessary to spur renewable energy investment there.
Outgoing PSC chair Robert Kenney also said he was disappointed in Wednesday’s vote.
“Energy policy in the United States is evolving and it’s happening on the state level,” he said.
Later in the day, Clean Line released a statement in reaction to the commission’s vote and defended Grain Belt’s purpose.
“There appears to be some confusion about how the project will benefiit Missourians,” the utility said. “This project is needed to move Missouri and our nation to a cleaner, more modern energy mix.”
Clean Line officials said they will review the order before further clarifying the benefits for the state. The company has said the line would create thousands of manufacturing and construction jobs, along with generating millions of dollars in tax revenue for schools and communities.
Block Grain Belt Express, which led the opposition, said it intends to study the order in advance of issuing further comment.
“The commissioners apparently believed that the proposed line is not needed,” the group said.
Its leaders said they recognize that the company has options it can pursue with the construction.
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