Missouri lawmakers again trying to pull plug on wind energy line

Source: By Kurt Erickson, St. Louis Post Dispatch • Posted: Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Transmission lines and wind turbines

Transmission lines and wind turbines (123rf.com)

JEFFERSON CITY — Just days after a major winter storm wreaked havoc on a Texas-size chunk of the nation’s electrical grid, Missouri lawmakers approved a plan designed to block a company from building a high-voltage electric transmission line across the northern part of the state.

On a preliminary vote Tuesday, the GOP-controlled House endorsed legislation requiring Chicago-based Invenergy to get approval from each of the eight county commissions where its lines will be located in order to start the so-called Grain Belt Express project.

“This is about protecting the rights of property owners, Missouri farmers and ranchers,” said Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, who sponsored the legislation.

The move is the latest in a string of attempts to stop the private company from using eminent domain to take land for the project, which aims to bring Kansas wind energy to Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.

Eminent domain is typically used by governments to take private property for public use. In this case, Invenergy said it needs the power in order to claim land it needs for the towers that will carry the above-ground line.

The Missouri Supreme Court earlier ruled that Grain Belt be granted public utility status because the $2.3 billion project is in the public interest.

The long-running opposition to the Grain Belt Express comes as some Republicans tried to blame clean energy for the power meltdown that hit Texas after the last week’s storm.

Unprotected wind turbines froze and solar farms were hobbled by cloud cover and snow, but there also were massive problems with the operation of Texas’ electrical grid, which also relies on natural gas and coal for energy production.

Invenergy spokeswoman Beth Conley said the “urgent electricity reliability concerns” of last week serve as an example of why the project should move forward.

“Had Grain Belt been in operation last week, outages in places like Kansas City and Springfield could have been avoided. That’s how shortsighted this legislation really is,” Conley said. “Now more than ever, Missouri’s economy needs this billion-dollar project to proceed and families and businesses need the reliability and utility savings Grain Belt Express will deliver.”

Grain Belt is expected to cross the property of 570 Missouri landowners, stretching across more than 200 miles and eight northern counties.

Municipal utilities, including Kirkwood, Columbia and Hannibal, have agreed to buy a portion of the 500 megawatts of power that would be made available in Missouri — a deal that helped persuade utility regulators that the project is in the public interest.

The legislation is House Bill 527.