JEFFERSON CITY – A state appeals court Tuesday backed state utility regulators over rural landowners and the Missouri Farm Bureau in a long-running case over a wind power transmission line running across the northern part of the state.
In a ruling issued Tuesday, the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District rejected claims that the Public Service Commission had erred in giving a green light in March to the construction of the Grain Belt Express Transmission line.
The 19-page ruling is the latest victory for backers of the project, which aims to bring Kansas wind energy east to Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.
In a unanimous decision from PSC commissioners in March, the project received “a certificate of convenience and necessity” – a designation recognizing it as being in the public interest, and lending developers the right to use eminent domain as needed to construct the line.
Landowners in the path of the transmission lines, as well as the farm bureau, appealed the decision, arguing the PSC had misinterpreted evidence and state utility laws in granting the approval.
The court disagreed with the opponents, known as the Missouri Landowners Alliance.
“MLA has failed to meet its obligation to show by clear and satisfactory evidence that the commission’s report and order was not based on competent and substantial evidence on the whole record,” Appellate Judge Mary Hoff wrote.
Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst said his organization “vigorously” disagrees with the ruling.
“Grain Belt Express is not a public utility. Investors who want to negotiate rates privately and enter into contracts to sell electricity to the highest bidders should not be able to condemn land in order to build their dream project,” Hurst said.
The decision marks the latest turn in the legal fight over the transmission line. The PSC initially blocked the project, but later approved it after a July ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court.
The project is expected to cross the property of 570 Missouri landowners, stretching across more than 200 miles and eight northern counties.
Nearly 40 municipal utilities in Missouri have agreed to purchase the power generated by the project, which could save an estimated $12.8 million each year for 20 years.
In June, the PSC unanimously approved Chicago-based Invenergy’s acquisition of the transmission line from Clean Line Energy Partners.
The company has said that its structures will take up less than 10 acres of land throughout Missouri, not including land underneath transmission wires.
The fight over the line has drawn in state lawmakers from rural areas of the state. In April, the Republican-led Missouri House approved legislation forbidding the company from using eminent domain for the project.
The legislation ultimately died in the Missouri Senate after a bipartisan group of senators filibustered the bill.
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