Dale Sandlin sits on his front porch and absorbs a peaceful scene of rolling hills, farm fields and trees swaying in the breeze.
What he can’t see is a 150-foot pole with wires that carry 600 kilovolts of electricity near his property, located in southern Buchanan County near Faucett. For Sandlin and more than 500 other landowners in Missouri, that power line came closer to reality when the final gavel was pounded at the 2019 legislative session in Jefferson City.
“It’s a fairly nice view,” he said. “If you had one of the largest power lines in North America down the road, it would affect your property values.”
Sandlin and other rural property owners in north Missouri have been fighting the Clean Line Energy project, known as the Grain Belt Express, for more than five years.
At times, they felt they gained the upper hand after the Buchanan County Commission rescinded its support and state regulators denied an application to build the line. The project involves the transmission of electricity from western Kansas wind farms to population centers east of the Mississippi River. It would pass through Buchanan, Clinton and Caldwell counties.
Clean Line fought back, hiring former Gov. Jay Nixon to represent its interests in front of the state Supreme Court. The project eventually won approval this spring from the Missouri Public Service Commission, which said it was in the public interest.
“We are witnessing a worldwide, long-term and comprehensive movement toward renewable energy in general and wind energy specifically,” the commission announced in its order approving the application. “The Grain Belt Project will facilitate this movement in Missouri.”
Even with Clean Line’s legal and regulatory victories, landowners like Sandlin could take heart in two realities. One was the PSC’s acknowledgment that Clean Line has few employees and lacks funding to complete the $2.3 billion project. The other was a move in the Missouri Legislature to pass a bill that outlaws a for-profit company’s use of eminent domain.
Now, those landowners are growing alarmed because Clean Line proposes to sell the Grain Belt Express to Chicago-based Invenergy, a company with $9 billion in assets and a track record of renewable energy projects. The eminent domain bill generated an enthusiastic rally in support, gained passage in the House and then died in the Senate.
“We’re not even sure we’re going to be able to live with it when it goes through,” said Ted Rogers, who farms 700 acres north of Faucett. He would see the power line go near the house he’s lived in since childhood.
As some landowners see it, there’s not much to stop Grain Belt, though they plan to continue to try. The PSC held a hearing last week on whether to approve the sale to Invenergy.
“It was very disappointing,” said Russell Pisciotta, a Caldwell County cattle farmer who’s active in a group called Block Grain Belt Express. “It’s a property-rights issue. We made a commitment to fight it, to see it through.”
Pisciotta and other landowners question the public benefit of the project, noting that most of the electricity is produced for customers who aren’t in Missouri. Because the power is transmitted on direct current lines – a rarity on a grid that uses alternating current – converter stations are necessary to get the power to retail customers.
Clean Line promised to build one in Ralls County, with Columbia, Kirkwood, Centralia and a pool of 35 other cities reaching agreements to buy some of the power.
Pisciotta thinks that’s a big if, given the expense of a converter station and the relatively small amount of power destined for Missouri. “We expect them to say it’s not feasible,” he said.
Missouri landowners said they’re not against renewable energy but believe Grain Belt is different from other wind projects, with eminent domain instead of a willing buyer and seller and most of the electricity going out of state.
As Sandlin puts it, support for green energy is easier to swallow when someone else pays the price. That someone, in the case of Grain Belt Express, is landowner after landowner along the 780-mile route.
“Basically, we’re just shoveling energy to the East Coast,” he said. “I kind of have a problem with bringing wind energy from Kansas when you have a state that has a city called the Windy City. I think it’s one of those deals where they’re trying to preserve their landscape … at the sacrifice of ours.”
Officials from Invenergy did not return a request to comment on this story.
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