Editorial: Missouri, my friend, is blowing against the wind

Source: By the Editorial Board, St. Louis-Post Dispatch • Posted: Wednesday, November 18, 2015

To the east and to the west of Missouri, a $2.2 billion, 780-mile transmission line designed to carry wind power from the great plains of Kansas to cities farther east has been approved.

Kansas said yes to the line, known as the Grain Belt Express, a while ago. Indiana also has given its approval. The most recent neighboring state to do so is Illinois, which approved Clean Line Energy Partners’ transmission route last Thursday.

Missouri is the lone holdout on helping provide the nation with a future of clean, renewable energy and lesser dependence on dirty coal-fired power plants.

Missouri farmers have crowed over their victory in getting the line blocked. In efforts to persuade the state’s Public Service Commission to vote against it, farmers offered familiar arguments about not wanting the line to cross their property and about creating problems when they plant and harvest crops.

The narrow victory by rural landowners came on a 3-2 vote in June by the commission. Clean Line, the company that is creating the Grain Belt Express, said it would turn its focus to winning approval in Missouri. Among its options are refiling an application or seeking to gain approval through federal law. The company is pursuing that strategy in Arkansas, where regulators denied another transmission project.

Houston-based Clean Line Energy Partners has been working for five years on winning approval to build the line through Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. The company, an independent transmission developer, needs the line to transmit wind energy from Kansas east to the electrical grid to provide energy to eastern population centers.

Rural property owners fear that allowing the line across their property will create some of the same problems as development of the nation’s interstate highway system — displaced communities, disrupted farm operations, economic disaster for some and wealth for others.

Jennifer Gatrel, head of Block Grain Belt Express Missouri, a group of opposition farmers and landowners along the line’s path, told the Post-Dispatch’s Jacob Barker in June that, “Anyone would know if you put a 200-foot tower in the middle of someone’s property … there’s going to be significant property devaluation.”

That sort of attitude doesn’t fly with groups trying to help cities reduce their need for fossil fuels.

“We are moving toward a low carbon future, and projects like this help us get there,” John Moore, an attorney who handles federal transmission issues for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Mr. Barker. “I do think we need to move a little bit beyond parochialism. The flow of electricity does not stop at the state line.”

Farmers and rural Show-Me State landowners have made it clear that they don’t consider it their job to help wind find a path across Missouri so it can be harnessed and turned into electrical energy for citizens to the east.

In rejecting the proposal, the Missouri PSC relied on a staff analysis that determined the project was not needed in Missouri and might not even benefit state ratepayers immediately. The regulatory commission’s role is to look at how a project would benefit Missouri to determine if a company should have utility status and the right of eminent domain.

Transmission line routes must be approved by state regulations. They are able to give developers the right to use eminent domain if they are unable to secure the property necessary for the lines otherwise.

Missouri Clean Line told the commission that as much as 500 megawatts could be offloaded to Missouri buyers but that it hoped to take most of the 4,000 megawatts that would be generated to an eastern grid with higher prices.

Wind energy can be a tremendous help in weaning the nation off coal as the main source of electrical power. Wind is abundant, renewable, non-depletable and carbon-free. Creating power from wind does not require water or fuel, and supporters say land owners can double-crop with wind, producing commodities while also harvesting wind.

Energy policy in the nation is evolving, and state commissions need to lead the change, rather than stand in the way of progress. The federal Clean Power Plan establishes emission rate goals for each state. The power sector is the nation’s largest source of carbon emissions, which are contributing to global climate change.

In the short term, it’s easy to understand why farmers may not want wind turbines whipping up the air over their land and changing life as they know it. But if rural landowners in Missouri don’t give a little and embrace ways to save the Earth from global warming, more than farming as they know it could be at stake.