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Grain Belt files third application for wind-power project

A private company that wants to build a transmission line to carry wind-generated power through four states, including Missouri, on Wednesday filed a third application for approval from the Missouri Public Service Commission, the regulatory agency that must sign off on the project.

The commission in 2015 denied the first request for the so-called Grain Belt Express from Clean Line Energy Partners to receive a certificate of convenience and necessity. A second application was rejected July 13. Missouri is the last of four states where regulatory approval is needed for the project.

Clean Line plans to build a transmission line to bring power from a wind farm in western Kansas to areas in Missouri, Kansas, Illinois and Indiana. In Missouri, the transmission line would pass through Buchanan, Clinton, Caldwell, Carroll, Chariton, Randolph, Monroe and Ralls counties and would have a converter station in Ralls County.

Representatives of the Block Grain Belt Express grass-roots organization that led to the project’s rejection last summer have said they are ready for another battle. Block Grain Belt bases its opposition on property rights issues, health concerns and the veracity of Grain Belt claims about financial benefits of the project.

When the Public Service Commission first rejected the project, the panel ruled that Clean Line did not meet two of five criteria necessary – that there was a need and public interest, said Mark Lawlor, director of development for Clean Line. He said the company can show it is capable of providing electricity, has the financial ability to provide it and that it is economically feasible.

“That box is checked by going and getting municipal utilities as a customer,” Lawlor said.

The energy the line can provide, via direct current electricity, is moved so efficiently it could save Missouri ratepayers at least $10 million annually, he said. The Missouri Joint Municipal Electric Utility Commission said that 35 of its municipal members plan to buy energy on the project. Centralia’s Board of Alderman on Tuesday voted to support the project, which the company said would provide electricity to 200,000 Missouri homes.

Hubbell Power Systems in Centralia is among the Central Missouri companies that have agreed to build components for the project.

Lawlor said Clean Line also is in talks with the city of Columbia on a possible deal. Columbia has a goal to have 25 percent of its energy portfolio come from renewable resources by 2023 and 30 percent by 2029. If the project is approved, Lawlor said the earliest it could be operational is 2021.

Construction would take from two and a half to three years.

“In the bigger picture we all know that there’s going to be more renewables on the system, either being pushed there through policies or by the sheer economics,” Lawlor said. He said property owners will be compensated for anything built on their land.

The opposition group points out that regulatory approval would give Clean Line the power of eminent domain to purchase property from unwilling sellers through court-approved condemnation.

The Public Service Commission on Wednesday set Sept. 14 as the deadline for anyone who wants to apply to “intervene and participate in this case,” meaning anyone who wants to voice support or opposition of the project, said Kevin Kelly, spokesman for the commission.

Kelly said the commission has scheduled a procedural conference on Sept. 28, when all parties will meet and discuss scheduling. The commission will set times for people to testify about the project and will consider myriad evidence in determining whether to approve the request. There is no set time frame for the five-member commission to make a decision.

Lawlor said construction would minimize any environmental impact.

“When we propose a line such as this you actually build less transmission” lines compared with traditional forms of energy, he said. “I can do on one” direct current “line what it takes on two or three or more alternating current lines to get done.”