JEFFERSON CITY – For years, rural Missouri lawmakers have worked to block a wind-powered electric transmission line from using eminent domain to acquire property needed to build a 4,000-megawatt project across the northern part of the state.
But, despite intense lobbying efforts from farm groups, the $2 billion Grain Belt Express will be moving forward following legislative action in the Senate on Tuesday.
Under Senate Bill 820, private companies such as the one building the line would face higher regulatory hurdles to use eminent domain to acquire easements to build on the properties of landowners who don’t want to negotiate a price for their land. Companies also would have to pay a higher price for land they seek.
Key to its passage is language making it clear that the proposed law only affects future projects, not Grain Belt, which is being built by Invenergy Transmission.
The legislation received a final vote in the Senate on Tuesday and the House could act to send the bill to Gov. Mike Parson before the close of the legislative session at 6 p.m. Friday.
The high-voltage power line would carry wind energy from Kansas across Missouri and Illinois before hooking into a power grid in Indiana that serves eastern states.
Supporters of the utility project balked at trying to stop it, arguing such a move would hurt the creation of thousands of construction jobs, deliver millions of dollars in property taxes to local governments and provide clean energy and lower rates to dozens of Missouri cities. Plus, they said, Grain Belt in 2019 was granted the right of eminent domain by the Missouri Public Service Commission. And, court cases had upheld the decision.
Through March, Grain Belt Express has filed 12 eminent domain lawsuits in Missouri and Kansas “as a last resort.” Two of those already have reached a voluntary settlement and the rest are pending.
Grain Belt Express said it is paying landowners 110% of the market value of the land. Additionally, the company pays landowners $18,000 for every transmission structure sited on their property, which is not typical for Missouri transmission projects, Whitty said.
As an added benefit, Invenergy says it will use the power lines to also offer broadband service that could bring improved internet service to more than one million rural Missourians, including 250,000 within 50 miles of the transmission line.
Also included in the legislation is a prohibition on homeowners associations banning solar panels.
Legislation that would limit the ability of local officials to require businesses to install electric vehicle charging stations – unless the local government pays the bill – was removed from the version of the bill approved on Tuesday.
Rep. Jim Murphy, R-south St. Louis County, had added the limit in the House.
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