Capitol braces for Grain Belt fight: What to know about the proposed project

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — It’s clean energy versus eminent domain in the Missouri Capitol Tuesday as the House is set to proceed with legislation that could make a multi-billion dollar project difficult.

Missouri farmers and ranchers who oppose the Grain Belt Express Clean Line project — which would extend through eight Missouri counties — plan to rally at the Capitol Tuesday afternoon. The House is also set to perfect a bill regarding eminent domain that could hinder the project.

Read on for a look at what to know about the project and the arguments for and against it.

What is the project?

The Grain Belt Express Clean Line project would develop an overhead and direct transmission line of approximately 780 miles delivering wind energy from western Kansas to utilities and consumers in Missouri and other states, according to its website. It would extend through eight Missouri counties: Buchanan, Clinton, Caldwell, Carroll, Chariton, Monroe, Randolph, and Ralls.

The project contends it would deliver about 4,000 megawatts of renewable power and clean energy to about 1.6 million homes per year and create new jobs — including both permanent and temporary construction work.

Grain Belt Express proposed route

In March, the Public Service Commission (PSC) approved a certificate of convenience and necessity for the project, giving it the green light to construct and manage a new transmission line in the state.

What do proponents say?

“The Grain Belt Express project represents a nearly $500 million direct investment in Missouri,” Beth Conley, a spokesperson for Ivenergy, told The Missouri Times. “It will pay Missouri landowners $32 million and pay $7 million in property taxes in the first year of operation alone. The project will also create 1,500 construction jobs.”

Members of the Missouri Public Utility Alliance (MPUA) have expressed unwavering support for a new transmission line, arguing it would result in millions of dollars in savings to consumers across the state.

“I think this project is very worth the effort, and I think it would be well-needed in the state of Missouri,” said Dennis Klusmeyer, superintendent of the city of Shelbina. “We are in need of infrastructure improvement across the state and across the country. On our electrical infrastructure, this would help support that.”

What about those opposed?

One main opposition to the Grain Belt hinges on eminent domain — an issue the state House has tackled this year and is expected to perfect this week.

Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst lambasted the PSC’s eventual approval of the project, saying it “sets precedent for private companies to buy land on the cheap and profit at the expense of Missouri citizens.”

“Allowing the project to proceed places hundreds of Missouri landowners at risk of having their land taken for a project that may never be completed.”

“Allowing the project to proceed places hundreds of Missouri landowners at risk of having their land taken for a project that may never be completed,” he said.

What is the legislature doing about it?

Sponsored by Rep. Jim Hansen, HB 1062 would prohibit private entities from using eminent domain for the purposes of constructing above-ground merchant lines — a direct blow to the Grain Belt project if it passes. Hansen represents some areas that would be impacted by the construction of the Grain Belt.

House Speaker Elijah Haahr vowed the General Assembly “will act to protect Missourians from private companies trying to seize their land through eminent domain” earlier this year.

“The legislation the House is moving forward is vital for many Missourians who otherwise would be forced to allow unreasonable restrictions on their family farms, damaging the value of their land, and taking away their private property rights,” he said.

James Owen, executive director of Renew Missouri, dismissed the eminent domain legislation as a tactic that will only “add to the litigation that’s been attempting to halt this job-creating project for five years.”

“Ultimately, it won’t stop it for many reasons, but leaders think this frivolous legislation will score points with some noisy constituents,” Owen told The Missouri Times. “So it’s another hurdle to creating jobs and bringing low-cost energy to Missouri. Disappointing, but misguided.”