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Grain Belt Express hits dead end with Missouri Public Service Commission

Another setback for a wind energy project proposed to go through Ralls County has developers evaluating “all available options to move the project forward in Missouri.”

Should the developers of the Grain Belt Express seek to move forward with the multi-state wind line project, it could include filings with the appellate court in Missouri.

In a 3-1 vote, the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) denied a rehearing to reexamine if the multi-state wind-power project should be granted a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity (CCN). According to an Aug. 12 order, Clean Line Energy did not demonstrate “sufficient reason to rehear the matter.”

The Aug. 12 order effectively ends the PSC’s involvement with Grain Belt Express.

“The next step is up to Grain Belt,” Gregg Ochoa, PSC spokesman said. “As of now, the PSC is done with this case.”

Ochoa said Grain Belt Express developers could move to the Missouri Court of Appeals, but since the case doesn’t involve rates, it’s a bit of a gray area.

The PSC denied the CCN in a report and order issued July 1 in a 3-2 vote. Without the CCN, Clean Line Energy – the company developing the Grain Belt Express – can not build the transmission line.

Clean Line Energy indicated in a statement that the project is “too important to Missouri, Illinois, and our nation’s energy future, not to pursue.”

The PSC didn’t see it that way, as it cited a lack of demonstrable need for the project in its denial of the CCN.

The project has split affected landowners in the proposed path, with some seeing the project as a necessary step to secure renewable energy in the state and others seeing potentially dangerous consequences with the use of eminent domain.

Differing opinions on the project has translated all the way up to the PSC itself.

Robert Kenney, former PSC Chairman, issued a letter of dissent to the CCN denial the day he stepped down from the commission.

“Missouri does, in fact, need the project Grain Belt Express was proposing; because the project is economically feasible; and because the project is most assuredly in the public interest,” Kenney wrote in one of his final acts on the commission.

Kenney and now-chairman Daniel Hall voted in favor of granting the CCN to Grain Belt Express. Commissioners William Kenney, Scott Rupp and Stephen Stoll voted against it. The same three commissioners also voted in favor of denying the rehearing, while Hall voted to grant a rehearing and new commissioner Maida Coleman abstained.

Upon his departure, Kenney shared strong words about the PSC’s decision.

“In denying the CCN we are, like the Luddites of the nineteenth century, telling the world that we do not embrace new technologies,” Kenney said in his scathing dissent. “We are telling the world that we prefer central planning to free markets. We are telling the world that new businesses models will be looked at with more than healthy skepticism; indeed new business models will be frowned upon and will be unwelcome. These are wrong messages to send.”

Kenney did not discount concerns about the use of eminent domain, one of the major concerns of opponents of the projects.

The day the PSC denied a rehearing, the attorney for the Missouri Landowners Alliance filed an appeal. The group of landowners raised concerns about eminent domain among a slew of other issues.

An appeal by a party who seemingly agrees with the decision is more of a preventative measure in the case that Clean Line Energy files with the appellate court.

The Grain Belt Express would carry wind energy from western Kansas through northern Missouri and would include a converter station just west of Center in Ralls County. The converter location is the only one along the proposed path in Missouri.

Grain Belt Express has received the required certifications in Kansas and Indiana, and is at the beginning of the process in Illinois.