Missouri regulators approve $2.3B Grain Belt Express transmission line, but fight not over

Source: By Robert Walton, Utility Dive • Posted: Friday, March 22, 2019

Renewable energy is growing rapidly in the U.S. as more cities, states and companies increase their commitments. But the ability to meet that demand can be constrained by a lack of transmission capacity, increasing the importance of projects like Grain Belt.

Less than two years after denying the project, the PSC concluded Grain Belt Express is necessary, economically feasible and in the public interest. The commission took steps to address concerns over how the line will be constructed, including putting limits on the company’s eminent domain authority. But fundamentally, regulators say there is a need for cleaner energy resources.

“There can be no debate that our energy future will require more diversity in energy resources, particularly renewable resources,” the commission said in a statement announcing its decision. “We are witnessing a worldwide, long-term and comprehensive movement towards renewable energy in general and wind energy specifically.”

The project would run 780 miles in total, and be capable of delivering about 4 GW of wind energy. Developers say it will cost about $2.3 billion to construct and will enable $7 billion of new renewable generation to be built.

Invenergy, which purchased the project last year, said the PSC’s approval confirms the “Grain Belt Express project is in the public interest and is good for Missouri.”

But the project still requires regulatory approvals in other states and opponents in Missouri have indicated they will continue to fight the proposed power line. The Missouri Landowners Alliance and Eastern Missouri Landowners Alliance have indicated they will appeal, according to local media.

The PSC “should not have granted” the certificate, Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst said in a statement.

“Private land should not be taken by eminent domain for the sole benefit of private investors,” Hurst said. “This decision sets precedent for private companies to buy land on the cheap and profit at the expense of Missouri citizens.”

Regulators attempted to assuage some concerns about the process, setting limits on how long Grain Belt Express can hold involuntary easements obtained through eminent domain, if it cannot financially move forward with the project.

According to the order, “if Grain Belt fails to obtain the necessary financial commitments for the Project within 5 years of obtaining an easement through eminent domain proceedings, Grain Belt must dissolve the easement and return possession of it to the landowner without any reimbursement of payments to the landowner for that easement.”

“Many of the landowners’ concerns will be addressed through carefully considered conditions placed on the [certificate],” the commission said in its statement.