Clean Line seeks ultimate resolution of transmission dispute

Source: Jeffrey Tomich, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, November 3, 2017

The developer of a $2.8 billion transmission line across the Midwest took a step this week to hasten its appeal of an order denying a certificate to build the 200-mile stretch of transmission line across the Show-Me State.

Clean Line Energy Partners LLC, which has been working since 2010 to develop the Grain Belt Express direct-current transmission line, petitioned the Missouri Supreme Court to take up the matter even before the case is heard by the state appellate court.

The 780-mile Grain Belt Express line would be an electron superhighway delivering wind energy from remote southwest Kansas to Indiana to serve more populous areas in the East. The line would have 4,000 megawatts of capacity, with 3,500 MW sent to the PJM Interconnection LLC grid and 500 MW delivered to eastern Missouri, part of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator’s grid.

The Public Service Commission in August denied Clean Line authority to build the section of the project line through Missouri, the only of four affected states to do so (Energywire, Aug. 17).

While the commission agreed that the company satisfied criteria for approval, the PSC said it had no choice but to reject the application because of an unrelated appellate court decision months earlier.

In that case, the Court of Appeals for Eastern District of Missouri overturned the commission’s approval of an Ameren Corp. transmission project on the basis that the St. Louis company hadn’t first received road-crossing approvals from each of the counties the line would cross.

Clean Line likewise didn’t have road-crossing approvals from each of the eight counties its line would cross, so the PSC decided it could not grant the company a certificate to advance the project.

The petition filed Monday by Clean Line’s attorney, former Gov. Jay Nixon (D), asks the Supreme Court to correct the appellate decision in the Ameren case and to provide legal certainty to the issue as soon as possible. The same court originally denied to hear the appeal of the Ameren decision.

Mark Lawlor, director of development for the Grain Belt Express line, reiterated Clean Line’s position that county approvals shouldn’t be a prerequisite for companies obtaining certificates for infrastructure projects.

Under the interpretation of the law following the Ameren court decision, “you can’t even step foot in the PSC until you get county road-crossing permits,” he said.

Lawlor said it makes sense for the Supreme Court to step in now because of the urgency of the issue and the “broad policy implications” for the state, which could go well beyond just the Grain Belt Express project.

A group of Missouri municipal energy customers with an option for transmission capacity on the Grain Belt Express line said $10 million in annual savings would be lost if the project isn’t developed.

The group known as the Missouri Joint Municipal Electric Utility Commission filed a separate petition asking the Supreme Court to take up the case.

Clean Line said the cities represent only a portion of the 500 MW of wind energy the project would deliver to Missouri. The company also reiterated the economic benefits such as jobs and taxes that the transmission line would generate in Missouri.

“The longer it takes this case to wind its way through the appellate courts, the more likely it is that Missouri will lose out on the economic benefits of the project because the joint municipalities and others will be forced to find power — at a higher cost — elsewhere,” the petition said.

Timing is also important because of the phaseout of the federal production tax credit and how the PTC step-down will affect the economics of Kansas wind development and the pricing of wind energy for end-use customers.

A spokesman for the PSC, the respondent in the case, didn’t immediately have a comment on the petition.

Paul Agathen, the attorney for a landowner group that challenged the Grain Belt Express project, said the group neither supports nor opposes the request for the Supreme Court to take up the case.

Agathen, however, said he will file with the court reasons why the request should be scrutinized.