A Missouri Courts of Appeals is being asked to find a peer court’s decision involving an electric line project erroneous that subsequently was used to deny necessary permits for an even more controversial electric project – the Grain Belt Express.
The first round of briefs filed on behalf of the embattled project were filed this week by attorneys for the prospective electric line in Missouri’s Eastern Court of Appeals.
A key permit for the project, which would carry wind energy from western Kansas through northern Missouri counties including Monroe and Ralls, was denied by the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) in August. PSC commissioners – most of whom actually supported the project – denied the line certificate due to the Western Court of Appeals ruling in another unrelated, but similar, case.
That case’s ruling, Neighbors United v. Ameren Transmission Company of Illinois, stated in essence that prospective utilities must gain permission to use county roads before the PSC can approve the project. The case essentially shifted the legal argument surrounding Grain Belt from one about the project’s necessity to one about procedure.
Thus, citing the ATXI ruling, the PSC denied Grain Belt Express, which has run into fierce opposition in the majority of counties along the proposed path.
Project developers appealed the denial to the Eastern Court of Appeals, which now must decide if the Western District’s ruling on the ATXI case was in error.
The outcome of the Eastern District case will likely wholly impact whether Grain Belt Express lives or dies. Missouri is the lone state yet to approve the project. Similar regulatory authorities in Kansas, Illinois, and Indiana have already approved the project.
Former Missouri governor Jay Nixon is leading the team representing Grain Belt. While governor, Nixon endorsed the project and championed greater “landowner protections.”
In briefs filed Tuesday, Nov. 28, Nixon and other attorneys argue that the Western District got the ATXI ruling wrong. They say that applying the ATXI ruling to Grain Belt is incongruous – that Grain Belt filed for permits under a different part of the state statute than ATXI. They say statute dictates that a utility can apply for an area certificate OR a line certificate. In this case, ATXI applied for an area certificate; Grain Belt applied for a line certificate. Additionally, attorneys say allowing county commissions to determine whether or not a public utility can move forward isn’t what statutes intended.
“This provision does not purport to give counties the authority to stand in the shoes of the PSC in determining whether a proposed utility project is in the public interest of the state or whether a utility should be granted a CCN,” briefs say. “That is particularly true where, as here, the Project is inter-state and involves important financial and public policy issues of both state-wide and national import.”
Discussion has continued on whether or not a county like Ralls, which rescinded its assent for the Grain Belt project on multiple occasions, can dictate whether a multi-state plan can proceed at the state level.
Attorneys for the Public Service Commission must now defend its legal position in a response to Grain Belt Express by Dec. 27. The case is expected to go before the court in February 2018.
Stakeholders have carefully watched this case for many years. Many say they oppose the project because it isn’t needed, could affect property values and farming practices. Some are worried about the possible use of eminent domain.
Proponents of the project say it will provide cheaper electricity to dozens of Missouri cities, including Hannibal.
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