Clean Line looking for new customers in Missouri for transmission project

Source: By Matthew Bandyk, SNL • Posted: Thursday, February 25, 2016

A municipal utility in Missouri has suspended talks to become a customer of Clean Line Energy Partners‘ proposed Grain Belt Express merchant transmission line. But the developer is continuing efforts to recruit other utilities as it plans to try to get the nearly 800-mile project approved in Missouri.

The Hannibal Board of Public Works in Hannibal, Mo., has decided to wait and see what happens with the high-voltage, direct-current project before it signs on, the Quincy, Ill., Herald-Whig newspaper reported Feb. 17. According to the report, Clean Line had pitched the board a deal in which the utility would pay an annual service fee to get energy from the line or to take partial ownership of a converter station that the Houston-based developer is planning for Ralls County, Mo., where part of the town of Hannibal is. The converter station would give energy users in that region access to about 500 MW of power from the line.

Missouri is the final state where the Grain Belt project needs regulatory approval. Under pressure from opponents, including landowner groups that believe the project will lead to the erosion of their property rights through eminent domain, the Missouri Public Service Commission rejected Grain Belt in a divided decision and then rejected Clean Line’s request for a rehearing.

But Clean Line has said it will continue to try to get the line built in Missouri. The developer argued the project will allow for about 3,500 MW of wind power to be moved from western Kansas to areas in need of renewable energy, and the line will be financed by merchant generators so ratepayers will not have to cover the costs.

The newspaper reported that there was also a proposed deal that the Hannibal board would “be a good witness in front of the Missouri Public Service Commission” but not commit to a final agreement with Grain Belt until later, and that Clean Line is trying to show to regulators that it has a customer base in Missouri.

A Clean Line spokeswoman said the developer continues to have many discussions with other potential customers. “There are many moving pieces that will need to come together before we will refile in Missouri,” she said when asked if the developer would not try again for approval with the PSC until it has an agreement with a utility in the state.

Clean Line recently announced an extension of its solicitation process for wind developers interested in tapping into Grain Belt. The original solicitation process found interest totaling more than 20,000 MW of wind capacity, according to Clean Line. The developer also said the estimated cost of the project is now at $2.75 billion, up from a previous estimate of $2.2 billion.

For the other states where the line would run, Kansas, Indiana and Illinois regulators have already signed off on the project.