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Energy Company Pressures Missouri Public Service Commission With Jobs Announcement

Elle Moxley
Clean Line Energy President Michael Skelly, left, and PAR Electric President Steve Adams sign a jobs agreement that could employ more than 1,300 Missourian workers. It's contigent on the Public Service Commission's approval of an energy pipeline project.

Skepticism from the Missouri Public Service Commission didn’t stop a company that wants to build a pipeline across the state to harness Kansas wind energy from signing a jobs agreement Thursday.

Clean Line Energy announced it will work with Kansas City-based PAR Electrical Contractors Inc. to create 1,300 jobs for Missourians during construction of the Grain Belt Express.

“This is a direct current transmission line designed to bring low-cost energy from the high plains of Western Kansas and deliver that low-cost power here to Missouri and states farther east,” Mark Lawlor, Clean Line’s director of development, said.

But the project is in limbo after three of five commissioners questioned whether the project was in the best interests of Missourians at a meeting earlier this month.

Jennifer Gatrel says she and her husband learned of Clean Line’s plan to build the pipeline two years ago, right after they purchased land in Cowgill, Missouri, a small farming community in Caldwell County.

Concerned about the safety of direct current transmission lines, Gatrel and her neighbors formed a group to oppose construction of the Grain Belt Express. Even after learning the line wouldn’t be on her property, Gatrel has continued to fight.

“Our lives have been on hold for two years,” Gatrel says. “People haven’t been building houses. People have been selling houses. We’ve all stayed awake many nights worrying about this.”

Gatrel doesn’t think Missourians should have to sign their property rights away to Clean Line to send energy to more lucrative markets in Illinois and Indiana.

“If this were something where someone’s lights were going to be turned off, even in a different state, we would be looking at this in a very different way,” Gatrel says. “But that’s just not the case.”

Lawlor says Clean Line expects the Missouri Public Service Commission to decide “any day” on the Grain Belt Express line’s future. He says while the obvious benefit of the project is to deliver energy, creating thousands of jobs is an added public benefit.

“These folks are struggling to get to a yes,” says Lawlor.

Supporters of the project include Missouri Rep. T.J. Berry, the Republican chairman of the House Utilities Committee.

“Now there are going to people that disagree and don’t necessarily want this project. We’ve seen that down in Jefferson City,” Berry said at Thursday’s announcement. “The energy that is created and the security it enables Missouri to have are worth fighting for.”

But even Lawlor concedes the jobs Clean Line says it will bring to Missouri are contingent on the commissioners’ vote.

A “no” vote would force Clean Line to pursue the easements to build the transmission line under federal eminent domain law. That, Lawlor says, will take much longer.

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