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Appeals court backs sale of controversial wind energy line in Missouri

JEFFERSON CITY – A state appeals court ruled in favor of a controversial wind electricity project Tuesday, putting the Grain Belt Express transmission line another step closer to construction.

The project, which has been tied up in legal and legislative challenges for years, will carry wind-generated power from Kansas to Indiana on a 780-mile-long transmission line that includes eight northern Missouri counties.

A group of landowners challenged a June 2019 ruling by the state’s Public Service Commission allowing Chicago-based Invenergy to acquire the line from Grain Belt.

The PSC’s decision to approve the sale was a necessary step for Invenergy to buy the rights to construct the proposed line.

Attorneys for the Eastern Missouri Landowners Alliance, also known as Show Me Concerned Landowners, argued that regulators did not have jurisdiction to approve the sale. They say the state should not allow a private company to use eminent domain proceedings to acquire land for the towers that will hold the line.

The Missouri Court of Appeals Western District disagreed, saying the PSC decision was correct because the project will deliver energy to Missouri wholesale customers, who will provide that energy to their retail customers.

“The commission found that, Grain Belt will not selectively sell to particular retail customers, but the electricity it transmits will serve the general public,” the court noted. “We find that the commission had the statutory authority to approve the sale of Grain Belt to Invenergy.”

Invenergy spokeswoman Beth Conley said the decision was good for Missouri’s economy.

“This $500 million private investment and the 1,500 construction jobs the Grain Belt Express will create are more important now than ever as Missouri emerges from the current economic crisis,” Conley said.

The decision is the second blow to the landowners in recent months.

In May, the Missouri Legislature failed to approve a law that would have prevented the company from using eminent domain to build the high-voltage line.

The measure moved out of the House, but was blocked in the Senate for the second year.

In addition to carrying power from Kansas to Indiana, the project also will include a 500-megawatt converter station that will supply electricity to at least 350,000 Missourians at a projected savings of $12.8 million per year based on contracts already reached with municipal utilities around the state.

The company has said that its structures will take up less than a total of 10 acres of land throughout Missouri, not including land underneath transmission wires.

“Land in the easement can maintain its existing use, and landowners will be compensated fairly for the easement and any damages,” the company said in literature distributed to lawmakers.

According to Invenergy, landowners along the route recently received a letter sharing the latest developments as well as a map showing the project route for each parcel.

“With an easement agreement, the landowner retains use and full ownership of the property and will be compensated at 110% fair market value of the land in the easement area,” the company said. “Landowners will also be compensated $18,000 for each structure built on their land and at their option may take the payment in a lump sum at construction or in annual payments.”

In its ruling, the court said the project will primarily use a pole design which has a smaller footprint than traditional alternating current transmission lines.