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Missouri PSC Approves Controversial Multi-State Wind-Energy Transmission Line

The Missouri Public Service Commission gave the green light Wednesday to allow a 780-mile wind-energy transmission line to be built across Missouri.

The Grain Belt Express transmission line will deliver nearly 4,000 megawatts of power from wind farms in western Kansas to parts of Missouri, Illinois and some eastern states. The line would course through eight Missouri counties, including Caldwell, Randolph and Monroe.

The decision represents progress to environmentalists who want more renewable energy in the state. But the project has faced tremendous opposition from landowners along the Grain Belt Express’ route who have complained that the line would adversely affect their health and interfere with farm operations. The commission unanimously voted in favor of the project.

A statement released by the commissioners said: “We are witnessing a worldwide, long-term and comprehensive movement towards renewable energy in general and wind energy specifically. The Grain Belt Project will facilitate this movement in Missouri, will thereby benefit Missouri citizens, and is, therefore, in the public interest.”

The commission also listed multiple ways that it plans to protect and compensate landowners who would be affected by the construction and operation of the transmission line. That includes “superior compensation payments” and taking “no more than nine acres of land in Missouri” out of agricultural production, so that the proposed route does not interfere with irrigation.

The Grain Belt Express Line would cross through 8 counties in Missouri, running about 206 miles in the state.
Credit Clean Line Energy Partners LLC
The Grain Belt Express Line would cross through 8 counties in Missouri, running about 206 miles in the state.

The Missouri Landowners Alliance, which opposes the Grain Belt project, is not satisfied with the regulators’ concessions. Paul Agathan, a lawyer representing the group, is considering an appeal of the Missouri commission’s ruling on the project.

Chicago-based energy company Invenergy bought the Grain Belt project last November from Houston-based Clean Line Energy Partners. Invenergy has experience building similar projects globally, and spokesperson Beth Conley said that background will help navigate challenges with residents.

“Invenergy has built more than 140 sustainable-energy projects around the world, and we’ve done that by really executing on our reputation as being a company that is committed to the communities that host our projects,” Conley said.

The sale still has to be approved by the regulators in Kansas and Missouri. Invenergy’s public hearing with the Missouri Public Service Commission will take place in April. Invenergy would not disclose how much it paid for the project.

Environmentalists support the commission’s approval of the transmission line. Grain Belt would provide wind energy to northern and central Missouri cities such as Columbia and Hannibal.

“We’re hoping that once Grain Belt is put in, that we’ll see more opportunities for more wind to come to Missouri,” said James Owen, executive director of Renew Missouri.

Owen expects that it’s not likely that St. Louis residents would be able to access power from Grain Belt. Ameren Missouri received approval in early 2018 for its Mark Twain transmission line that would deliver 345,000 volts to areas including the St. Louis region.

Invenergy expects that that the Grain Belt Express could begin operating in 2023.

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Eli Chen is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. She comes to St. Louis after covering the eroding Delaware coast, bat-friendly wind turbine technology, mouse love songs and various science stories for Delaware Public Media/WDDE-FM. Before that, she corralled robots and citizen scientists for the World Science Festival in New York City and spent a brief stint booking guests for Science Friday’s live events in 2013. Eli grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, where a mixture of teen angst, a love for Ray Bradbury novels and the growing awareness about climate change propelled her to become the science storyteller she is today. When not working, Eli enjoys a solid bike ride, collects classic disco, watches standup comedy and is often found cuddling other people’s dogs. She has a bachelor’s in environmental sustainability and creative writing at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and has a master’s degree in journalism, with a focus on science reporting, from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.
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