Clean Line closing in on final order with PSC

Source: By Travis Zimpere, Missouri Times • Posted: Thursday, October 20, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Grain Belt Express Clean Line wind energy project has made significant steps towards getting the final green light from the Public Service Commission.

After it stalled in July, the PSC last week gave the go-ahead to finalize a public hearing schedule, which means that a final order on construction of Clean Line could happen as early as next spring. In other words, the case has officially started with the commission.

Mark Lawlor, the director of development with Clean Line, said that he was excited the project was making progress in the PSC, the last regulatory hurdle that the project must cross before the energy transmission and distribution lines can begin construction from West Kansas. The PSC equivalents in Kansas, Illinois and Indiana have already approved the project.

“It wouldn’t make a lot of sense to build a line around Missouri,” Lawlor said, adding that he is confident the PSC will rule fairly on the merits of the project, not the factor. “They’re going to judge the case on its merits and whether it meets the standards that Missouri has under its statutes. They will ask, ‘Is there a need for the project and is it it in the public interest?’ We have put forth a strong argument that there’s a need.“

Lawlor also cited a growing contingent of organizations favorable of the Clean Line project. It now has the backing of 38 utilities, nearly 70 municipalities, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, and about 10 Fortune 100 corporate entities with a presence in Missouri that want that clean power to meet their own sustainability goals.

Those 38 utility companies have agreed to a transmission service agreement on the Grain belt project because they cannot get energy as cheap as they can from the grain belt project.

“You look at General Motors and Walmart and Unilever throughout the state that have signed on to support the project,” he said. “They’re saying ‘Yes, we concur, we want more renewables. Right now, we are behind as a state in renewables, we’re not taking advantage of the low costs here and projects like this, we need to do them.’ ”

The Clean Line itself would run from wind farms in Kansas that have grown in generation from 40 GWh to almost 11,000 GWh since 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The Sunflower State is second only to Texas in wind power potential, and for states like Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri, that lack adequate natural conditions for large-scale wind power, Clean Line is seen as an attractive alternative renewable energy source.

While Indiana and Illinois signed onto the project before Missouri, Missouri was always seen as the most integral partner of the project. Lawlor says that belief can cause some to believe Missouri would not get much benefit out of the project, even though Missouri would get roughly 500 MW from wind energy as a result.

“Some folks get distracted this is something going through Missouri, the reality is that this is delivering power to Missouri,” he said. “From day one, it was just going to be a Kansas to Missouri line, but we found the Missouri grid couldn’t take that much power.

“Missouri’s key to this whole thing and we hope and expect we can bring those benefits to the state,” Lawlor said.