By - Michael Drost

Missouri regulators block Grain Belt Express

Energize Weekly, July 8, 2015

Missouri utility regulators voted to reject the route of a $2.2 billion multistate high-voltage transmission line that would bring wind energy from Kansas to the Midwest, saying the line was not necessary for Missouri ratepayers.

In a 3-2 vote, the state Public Service Commission (PSC) questioned whether the 750-mile Grain Belt Express (GBE) transmission system was economically feasible, citing the fact the line was proposed by a private company, Clean Line Energy Partners (CLEP) and not a utility. Normally, transmission projects are chosen via a planning process by regional transmission organizations, or RTOs. The Grain Belt Express was different in that CLEP said it would engage wind developers and electricity buyers on its own.

“After applying the facts to the law to reach its conclusions, the Commission concludes that the substantial and competent evidence in the record supports the conclusion that GBE has failed to meet, by a preponderance of the evidence, its burden of proof to demonstrate that the Project as described in its application for a certificate of convenience and necessity is necessary or convenient for the public service,” said the Commission.

The line has been touted as a way to create jobs and provide clean, low-cost energy to around 200,000 Missouri homes, however it was vocally opposed by landowners and farmers who did not want the line to come across their land, citing concerns over the line’s effect on crops and pastures.  Despite a last minute surge in activity on the part of CLEP to promote the benefits of the line, the PSC ultimately came down on the side of the farmers.

“You had to come down to the property rights,” PSC Commissioner Scott Rupp said.

The PSC also questioned the notion that the project is needed to help the state meet its renewable energy goals. The state has a requirement that utilities obtain at least 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2021, and three out of four of the state’s public utilities are already on track to meet that mark.

“In this case the evidence shows that any actual benefits to the general public from the Project are outweighed by the burdens on affected landowners,” said the Commission.

CLEP says that it will still go through with plans to build the project, and have hinted it will pursue eminent domain approval through the federal government, a strategy they have already implemented in Arkansas. It is also possible that the company could refile with an alternative route.

“We’ll continue to work to have the questions they have about the project answered,” said Grain Belt Express manager Amy Kurt. CLEP maintains that the line will help affected states comply with proposed federal rules to cut greenhouse gas emissions and state renewable energy portfolio (RPS) mandates, and will also create hundreds of jobs.

CLEP says that it anticipates the Illinois Commerce Commission will rule on the central Illinois section of the line this fall.

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