Many Missouri residents living along the proposed “Grain Belt Express” merchant transmission line by Invenergy were surprised to read the blatant misrepresentation of the project in the recent op-ed “The way of the American genius continues to build with the Grain Belt Express” appearing in these pages on Dec. 3. The real shame is the paper wasted ink on this exercise in self-aggrandizement, when the same outdated talking points used by the author can be viewed by anyone directly on Invenergy’s website. We have all seen this song and dance before.
Plundering the land of Missouri landowners for private gain is not heroic nor commendable, but rather a shameful abuse of eminent domain laws by an out-of-state billionaire who aims to ship government subsidized wind energy across our state’s borders and profits into the pockets of investors. It does not benefit the state when private companies manipulate our eminent domain laws to serve only their bottom line and not our citizens.
Missouri does have a proud and storied past as a frontier for infrastructure investment and our rural communities are resilient. But the author’s attempt to equate the corporate behemoths behind Grain Belt Express to true Missouri trailblazers like Mark Twain, J.C. Penney and Walt Disney is an insulting attempt to mislead, misguide and distract readers from the facts.
First, the Grain Belt Express is not a product of a Missouri genius, but rather an outdated idea of a Chicago billionaire whose intent is to drive profits for investors. If Grain Belt Express was truly innovative they would be taking notes from the SOO Green which delivers renewable energy underground on existing rail rights of way through Iowa to the Eastern U.S., eliminating land and environmental impacts of above-ground merchant transmission lines. Even the Clean Path NY project (of which Invenergy is a partner) is buried underground. One would think an actual genius could modify the Grain Belt Express project to provide all of the “benefits” of clean power without the major disruptions. But corporate greed stands in the way of actual progress.
Second, Monroe County receives very little (if anything) from the proposed Grain Belt Express. Yet, local farmers carry the burden of giving up easements through the middle of their fields while facing colossal towers transporting 3,500 megawatts next to their homes or are forced to farm near them, the total effects of which are yet unknown as there is no other project like this in the country.
Landowners in Monroe County have been opposing Grain Belt Express for eight years. In fact, specifications for the project are now at least 10 years old, or more, rendering the technology outdated. Yet, Grain Belt Express continues to throw more money into a project that is solely dependent on government usurping the constitutional rights of property owners through the power of eminent domain, rather than investing in new technology to build a better project (e.g. burying the line).
I am particularly concerned with the treatment of landowners who are expected to negotiate easements under the threat of eminent domain. Grain Belt Express will not give landowners the exact siting of easements on their property and have resorted to informing landowners they will find out when construction starts. That is not how we do business in the Show-Me State.
Third, it may surprise some readers to learn the Grain Belt Express is a purely optional merchant transmission line which has not been ordered or required for any ratepayer need. Instead, it is a private, supplemental, profit-making endeavor as a merchant transmitter of electricity that is not restricted to wind energy. It is NOT funded by ratepayers because it is not for them. It is funded by investors who receive the benefit from the project. As an optional project, Invenergy can cancel the Grain Belt Express at any time. In fact, the project may never be built if the economics do not translate into returns for investors. For this reason, the project should not be allowed to take land “for a public use.” Landowners deserve certainty, not smoke and mirrors, and Grain Belt Express should not interfere with landowner rights before it even has customers and financing for their project.
Finally, the highly parroted cost savings ($12 million annually) still promoted by Grain Belt Express are based on old agreements that have since expired, and certainly not applicable to today as our economy recovers from the pandemic.
Now more than ever, affected landowners deserve transparency from the Grain Belt Express. Missourians’ constitutional property rights should never be for sale to the highest bidder, and we are ready to have an honest debate on the merits of eminent domain for merchant transmission lines and its real effects on our communities.
Marilyn O’Bannon is the Associate County Commissioner of Monroe County.
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