Electric utility regulators in Missouri today blocked developer Clean Line Energy Partners from building its $2.3bn Grain Belt Express (GBE) wind energy transmission project through their state, dealing a body blow and leaving its future uncertain.
Missouri is a critical middle link in the 780-mile (1,255km) project that would transport 4GW of wind-generated power from western Kansas to Illinois, Indiana and neighboring states.
Despite finding the project is in the public interest and will benefit the state, the Public Service Commission (PSC) unanimously decided it was unable to grant approval because GBE did not secure road crossing permission from all eight counties along the proposed 206-mile project segment in Missouri.
While those counties in 2012 did provide “assent” for GBE to construct and operate the necessary transmission infrastructure “through, along and across public roads and highways” in their jurisdictions, several subsequently tried to rescind that decision. At least one did.
Today’s ruling precludes new linear infrastructure projects from being approved by the PSC without first securing road crossing permission from each county they traverse.
“We will review the order in detail to determine next steps for the project,” Clean Line President Michael Skelly said in a statement. “We are currently assessing all existing authorities available to move the Grain Belt Express project forward, including but not limited to legal appeals.”
GBE had sought a PSC certificate of convenience and necessity (CCN) enabling it to build, own, operate, control, manage and maintain the 600kV direct-current line and related facilities, as well as an associated converter station in the state.
A PSC spokesman tells Recharge that in response to the ruling, GBE could file an application for a re-hearing with the commission. If it denied the application, GBE could then appeal that decision in a court. “That would be the next step in the process,” he said.
The project has strong support from business, consumer, environmental and renewable energy groups, but faced opposition from some landowners and local officials. It would deliver 500MW of electricity to customers in Missouri.
“The PSC’s decision to deny approval of the project, despite the clear public benefits, sends a clear message that investors contemplating new infrastructure projects should not come to Missouri,” Skelly said.
“Today’s ruling is inconsistent with good government and sound public policy and it is our hope that moving forward Missouri will work to remove barriers to building new critical infrastructure projects,” he added.
In a separate concurring opinion, the four commissioners said while their decision was legally correct – the Missouri Western District of Appeals Court has upheld the requirement for county road crossing approval – there is a “demonstrable need” for both the service and product that GBE would offer the state and “relevant regional markets.”
They called the project “economically feasible,” while its developer presented the PSC with a “credible levelised cost of energy analysis.” It also would have lowered energy production costs in Missouri by $40m or more under future energy scenarios.
“In our view, the broad economic, environmental and other benefits of the project to the entire state of Missouri outweigh the interests of individual landowners,” they wrote.
The commissioners cautioned landowners and by extension, the counties, that PSC could have imposed protections in a CCN to address their concerns. They note that GBE had agreed to many of them.
“The Commission’s ability to impose such protections for Missouri citizens would be lost if GBE must now bypass Missouri and obtain approval for the project from the US government based on federal law. We would have preferred to grant the application and retain those necessary protections,” they wrote.
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