Kiernan: Grain Belt Express offers Missouri jobs and grid resiliency

Source: By Tom Kiernan, St. Louis Today • Posted: Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Clean energy is quickly becoming one of the pillars of a strong 21st century economy.

Solar installer and wind-turbine technician are the country’s two fastest growing jobs. More than 500 U.S. factories that build wind turbine components are supplying next-generation manufacturing jobs, and Fortune 500 companies such as General Motors and Apple are locating facilities where they can access clean energy.

Unfortunately, the Missouri Legislature is debating a measure, House Bill 2033, that could close off these benefits to Missourians by making development of the Grain Belt Express transmission line project, designed to deliver affordable clean energy to the state’s consumers, unfeasible if not impossible.

To fully harvest America’s clean energy potential, we need to update and expand the country’s electric grid. After all, the American Society of Civil Engineers recently rated our electric grid an unacceptable D-plus.

We need the appropriate infrastructure, such as Grain Belt Express, to carry renewable electricity from high-quality wind and solar resources to the towns, cities and manufacturing hubs. Building new transmission lines is at the heart of this effort.

Fortunately, building new transmission isn’t just a renewable energy story. The benefits of transmission investment include job creation and a more affordable, reliable power system.

In short, creation of an electricity-transmission superhighway based on 21st century technology promises to create growth and opportunity in Missouri and neighboring states.

Studies routinely show transmission upgrades more than pay for themselves. For example, the Mid-Continent Independent System Operator runs the electric grid in parts of 15 states, including Missouri. The operator found recent transmission upgrades created benefits 2.6 to 3.9 times greater than their cost.

The proposed Grain Belt Express is a textbook example of the kinds of projects we need to keep our economy and power system strong, reliable and affordable. The Missouri Public Service Commission has evaluated Grain Belt Express and determined it’s good for Missouri residents, both energy rate payers and taxpayers alike. The Public Service Commission found that the Grain Belt Express is a public utility, is for public use and is in the public interest.

The economic benefits are clear.

Thanks to a contract with a group of Missouri municipal utilities, the Grain Belt Express project could save Missouri families and businesses over $12 million annually. It could create more than $500 million in direct investment to develop and build the project, putting more than 1,500 Missourians to work building the line. Eight Missouri counties (Buchanan, Clinton, Caldwell, Carroll, Chariton, Randolph, Monroe and Ralls) could see more than $7.2 million in new tax revenue, and landowners in the state will be paid more than $32 million in easement payments.

On top of these benefits, some of Missouri’s largest employers have been looking for Grain Belt’s approval for years: General Motors, Target, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Kellogg’s and Nestle have long been on record supporting it. Together, these companies employ over 10,000 Missourians. In a 2016 letter they explained why this infrastructure project was important to their business:

“Grain Belt Express Clean Line is an opportunity to provide our companies with a link to low-cost renewable energy at a scale that is meaningful. Access to renewable energy is increasingly important to our decisions about where to expand and to site new facilities.”

Beyond Missouri, additional transmission infrastructure will benefit grid resiliency, security and efficient use of electricity across the Midwest region.

Wind now supports over 114,000 jobs in all 50 states, and in many parts of the country wind is now the cheapest source of new electricity. In fact, the U.S. now has enough installed wind capacity to power more than 32 million homes. But Missouri could be shutting itself off from this growing American success story.

We urge the Legislature to consider all the costs and benefits of HB 2033 — notably the lost economic opportunity for Missouri — and oppose its passage.

Tom Kiernan is chief executive of the American Wind Energy Association.