Missouri agriculture groups criticize Grain Belt Express over a proposed new extension
Grain Belt Express’ developer announced its transmission line will now deliver 2,500 megawatts of clean energy to Missouri, up from 500. But that increase requires an extra 40-mile connector line, which Grain Belt asked state regulators to approve as an amendment to its original plan, instead of a new line that would be governed by higher land price for farmers.
A years-long fight over the Grain Belt Express high-voltage transmission line appeared to end earlier this year when lawmakers signed off on compromise legislation requiring future transmission lines to bring more benefit to Missouri.
It also required electrical transmission line developers to pay farmers more for easements to build future projects on their land.
Grain Belt Express’ developer, Chicago-based Invenergy, responded by announcing its transmission line — which spans 800 miles from southwest Kansas to Indiana — will now deliver 2,500 megawatts of clean energy to Missouri, up from 500.
That increase requires an extra 40-mile connector line, which Grain Belt asked state regulators to approve as an amendment to its original plan instead of as a new transmission line that would be governed by the new higher land price for farmers.
Grain Belt pledged to pay the higher fare to landowners along the Tiger Connector line, which will run through Monroe County and Audrain County into Callaway County, where it will enter the grid.
But that pledge wasn’t enough for the state’s leading agriculture groups, who say they fear Invenergy is attempting to subvert the compromise meant to end years of opposition from groups like the Missouri Farm Bureau.
A coalition of five agricultural groups said Monday in a joint statement that they believed developers are “intentionally attempting to skirt the landowner protections” in the new law.
“If Grain Belt Express were serious about protecting landowners, whose property is necessary for this project, it would file its application as a new project – removing all doubt that it will comply with the newly enacted law,” the statement says. “Unfortunately, this is just more of the same from Grain Belt Express, which has a long history of negative interactions with landowners in its quest to make a profit at their expense.”
Dia Kuykendall, director of public affairs for Grain Belt Express, noted the line has “already been approved unanimously in Missouri.”
“What’s now to be decided in front of the Missouri Public Service Commission through our amendment request is if the project can bring five times the amount of energy to Missouri than originally planned while voluntarily complying with the landowner compensation requirement outlined in (House Bill) 2005,” Kuykendall said. “That’s why you see so many supportive organizations filing in favor of our amendment.”
Groups that support the project — including Associated Industries of Missouri, Clean Grid Alliance, Sierra Club, RENEW Missouri and the Missouri Joint Municipal Electric Utility Commission — have petitioned to file comments with state regulators alongside opponent farm groups.
Ray McCarty, president and CEO of Associated Industries, said in an email that “maintaining energy affordability is key to Missouri’s economy.”
“Bringing more power to the region is the best solution to manage the growing energy requirements and costs Missouri businesses and families are facing,” McCarty said.
To build its line, Invenergy needs easements on rural lands across eight counties in northern Missouri. It has obtained more than 70% of the necessary parcels through negotiations with landowners and has said repeatedly that it prefers to reach such agreements. But in the event landowners refuse to sell, it can take property through eminent domain and compensate them under a “certificate of convenience and necessity” approved by Missouri regulators in 2019.
Farm groups have fought the project for years over opposition to the use of eminent domain. They’ve supported legislation meant to derail the project, including one proposal that would have given county commissions veto power over transmission projects. That legislation was also backed by the majority of commissioners in several counties along the Grain Belt route, meaning passage of such a bill would have assuredly killed the project.
Now, farm groups have petitioned to intervene in regulatory proceedings at the Missouri Public Service Commission after Invenergy applied to amend its certificate of convenience and necessity to build the Tiger Connector.
The amendment would allow Invenergy to site the Tiger Connector and build a larger power converter station to drop off electricity in Missouri. The company has also requested approval to build the line in phases, in part because of delays in getting its approvals to construct the Illinois portion of the line.
Invenergy also asked to alter its landowner compensation package to pay farmers and rural residents along the Tiger Connector 150% of fair market value for easements on their land. That’s the level legislators set this spring when they passed a bill meant to give Missouri landowners more power and benefit in negotiations with transmission line developers. The legislation does not apply retroactively to Grain Belt, but the company is offering it for the new Tiger Connector route.
“Nevertheless, Grain Belt Express is not opposed to offering 150% of fair market value to Tiger Connector landowners as called for by some stakeholders,” the company’s filing says.
Garrett Hawkins, president of the Farm Bureau, said the group was frustrated that Invenergy had filed to amend the Grain Belt plan instead of filing a new application.
“A new application would signal to landowners, farmers, ranchers, legislators, and the public at large that Grain Belt Express expects and plans to adhere to the provisions of HB 2005 that were enacted by the Missouri General Assembly,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins didn’t say whether the Farm Bureau would support or oppose the project if Grain Belt filed a new application.
He said the “ink was barely dry” on this spring’s compromise legislation when Invenergy announced the Tiger Connector.
Construction of the line will help Invenergy drop off more power in Missouri, something lawmakers wanted. But Hawkins was frustrated farm groups didn’t know about the possibility during the spring legislative session.
“Dropping more power in Missouri was and is a good step forward,” Hawkins said, “but the company still falls short and more work must be done to address the needs and concerns of landowners.”
This story was originally published on the Missouri Independent.