A bill moving quickly through the Missouri House attempts to stop a high voltage, wind energy transmission line designated to run through private property in northern Missouri.
The bill was voted out of committee Wednesday and proponents expect it to be on the House floor within two weeks, with the staunch support of Speaker Elijah Haahr.
“In light of the recent PSC decision on the Grain Belt Express, the General Assembly will act to protect Missourians from private companies trying to seize their land through eminent domain. The legislation the House is moving forward is vital for many Missourians who otherwise would be forced to allow unreasonable restrictions on their family farms, damaging the value of their land and taking away their private property rights,” Haahr wrote in an official statement this week.
At issue is the developers’ use of eminent domain to get the acreage they need to put up transmission towers in a span of 200 miles through Buchanan, Clinton, Caldwell, Carroll, Chariton, Randolph, Monroe, and Ralls counties, involving more than 500 landowners
Bill sponsor Jim Hansen, R-Frankford represents two of these counties. He says he supports wind energy but finds the approach heavy-handed. “If they want to do it, all they have to do is go out and get the easements and build the project. We’re just saying that you don’t have the right to use eminent domain to cross people’s property and all of our agriculture land if you’re a private entity and that’s what they are,” Hansen says.
But the Public Service Commission on this past March voted unanimously to give Grain Belt Express Clean Line LLC a “certificate of need and necessity.” Former Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon argued on behalf of the company.
The PSC stated “There can be no debate that our energy future will require more diversity in energy resources, particularly renewable resources,” said the Commission. “We are witnessing a worldwide, long-term and comprehensive movement towards renewable energy in general and wind energy specifically. Wind energy provides great promise as a source for affordable, reliable, safe and environmentally friendly energy. The Grain Belt Project will facilitate this movement in Missouri, will thereby benefit Missouri citizens, and is, therefore, in the public interest.”
The proposed line promises to deliver 3,500 megawatts of renewable energy from western Kansas to southeastern Missouri and into Illinois, and Indiana where it would connect to a grid that supplies energy to heavily populated northeastern states.
The Public Service Commission ruled that the landowners would have to be compensated for use of the land and caps the amount of agricultural land used for each tower.
Grain Belt must act on the certificate within two years but Chicago-based Invenergy wants to acquire the project from Clean Line Energy Partners out of Texas and the PSC must approve that.”
“This is still all about private property and personal property rights. That’s the big issue,” Hansen says. “This is still a private company, not one you can buy stocks in. It’s owned by someone.”
Peggy Whipple, who argued on behalf of Clean Line before the Missouri Supreme Court and the PSC, says the commission decision legally deems the company to be a public utility, answerable to local regulators.
“We have legal control over this company that will develop this line for everything that we could hope to have it for, other than rates only.” Rates would come from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and must be just and reasonable, she says.”
In a three-hour hearing Monday, lawmakers heard from landowners and farmers in support of the bill (against Grain Belt) and municipalities and businesses that want the promise of cheaper, clean power.
Small cities and their utilities spoke against the bill, saying they need the new power lines. Carroll County Commissioner Bill Boelsen:
“My previous job before I took on this job was high-voltage electricity. I traveled the entire United States working on substation transformers. This country’s infrastructure is crap anymore. It’s 70, 80 years old at least.”
Todd Hayes, VP of the Missouri Farm Bureau told the panel that farmers need control of their land.
“It would definitely limit some of the ability we can use our property for, some of the things for future use with this line being overhead. Not all of the lines follow property lines. Some will be crossing lines in different fields in different ways.
Stephen Franke, a businessman from Hannibal says they’ve been promised energy a third cheaper than the open market.
“Two cents a kilowatt-hour an entire third cheaper for a community with 20 percent poverty rate. That’s substantial. In addition, a 25-year contract, we’re locked in which means we can do capital planning, we can do reserve planning. We’re not exposed to the risk of an open and volatile market.”
Marilyn O’Bannon of Monroe County says she will lose farmland and room to till:
“When do you give the right to somebody to take their business across your business. I’m going, as a landowner, to give up a lot of income. I’m not talking a few dollars here, a lot of income to allow something to come across my property that I will get no value from.”
O’Bannon says she and her fellow 500-plus landowners were not contacted by the company. She says that even if Grain Belt asked for an easement, she would not negotiate. “The only way they can get that is through condemnation suits and that is where eminent domain is going to be a problem.”
A landowners group and similar interests plan to appeal the PSC decision