Buoyed by recent high-profile endorsements from the public and private sector, Clean Line Energy, developers of the Grain Belt Express transmission line from Kansas wind farms, submitted a new application for the project’s approval on Thursday.
The fate of the project now rests in the hands of the Missouri Public Service Commission, which scuttled the project’s original application last year amid concerns from farmers and other landowners in the project’s path.
The renewable energy transmission project would bring power 780 miles from wind farms in western Kansas to Illinois and Indiana, with some electricity then being sent through the grid to metropolitan centers farther east. While about 85 percent of its electricity is destined for other states, the project would power about 200,000 Missouri households. Of the four states that the project’s overhead transmission lines would pass through, only Missouri has yet to approve the project. Kansas, Illinois and Indiana have already done so.
Missouri-based support for the project is gaining momentum. The transmission line secured an endorsement from Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday, and has also won support from a number of municipalities and businesses within the state. In his statement, Nixon touted the jobs that the project’s construction would provide and the “enhanced landowner protections” that have been put in place.
Prominent members of the business community, meanwhile, have expressed interest in the improved access to cost-competitive, renewable energy that the project would provide. A press release announcing Grain Belt Express’ new application filing listed General Motors, Procter & Gamble and Nestle among influential employers backing the project, as well as the Missouri Industrial Energy Consumers association.
But hurdles still exist for the project to come to fruition. The PSC first needs to agree to review the new application, and will then need to determine that sufficient safeguards are in place to reverse its 3-2 decision issued in 2015.
Opponents of the project released a statement Wednesday that was sharply critical of Nixon’s endorsement. “We feel Governor Nixon needs to let the Public Service Commissioners he appointed do their jobs free from political pressure,” said spokesperson Jennifer Gatrel, a spokesperson for Block Grain Belt Express, a grassroots organization. In the statement, Gatrel expressed lingering concerns about the impact the project could have on farmers and ranchers and their property rights.
Some are optimistic, however, that Clean Line Energy has been diligent about addressing concerns from landowners and other stakeholders and that the project merits a second look from the commission. Clean Line has made arrangements for an on-the-ground agricultural inspector to help supervise construction and minimize its impact to local farms. The company has also committed a sum of $32 million to affected landowners.
“I hope that the PSC will hear Clean Line again considering the changes they’ve made,” said Josh Campbell, executive director of the Missouri Energy Initiative, a nonpartisan organization based in Jefferson City. (Mark Lawlor, the director of development for Clean Line Energy, is a board member for the organization.)
“I think the vast majority of elected officials support Clean Line,” Campbell added. “I think Clean Line has gone out of its way to address the concerns of that vocal minority.”
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