JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Grain Belt Express and private property rights took center stage at a committee hearing on a bill limiting which companies can use eminent domain.
HB 1062, sponsored by Rep. Jim Hansen, proposes that no private entity has the power of eminent domain for the purposes of constructing above-ground merchant lines. Over the course of Monday afternoon and into the evening, roughly a dozen people testified on the bill to the House General Laws Committee.
“In light of the recent PSC decision on the Grain Belt Express, the General Assembly will act to protect Missourians from private companies trying to seize their land through eminent domain,” House Speaker Elijah Haahr said in a statement. “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.”
In March, the Missouri Public Service Commission granted the Grain Belt Express a certificate of convenience and necessity to construct and manage a new transmission line that will develop renewable energy and facilitate economic growth in the state.
The line, transferring 4,000 megawatts of wind energy, will extend throughout eight Missouri counties: Buchanan, Clinton, Caldwell, Carroll, Chariton, Randolph, Monroe, and Ralls. The line will pass through the property of 739 Missourians and, according to testimony, the Green Belt Express has reached an agreement of fewer than 50 landowners.
“If they don’t want power lines over their land, that should be their decision,” said Rep. Jeff Shawan.
Since the PSC deemed a need of service and that the line was in the public interest, it enables them to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation.
Opponents to the bill argued that the line was bringing cleaner, cheaper energy to that state and that the amount of land that will be used for the public good is minuscule.
The PSC said in their decision that the project’s agricultural impact will also be curtailed because it orders no more than nine acres of land in Missouri to be taken out of agricultural production, and the line’s route will not directly impact any existing center pivot irrigation systems.
One Hannibal resident said that the project will be very beneficial to his city and his community. He noted that his community has 17,000 people with a 20 percent poverty rate.
“We would get our energy a full-third cheaper than we currently are in the open Market,” said Stephan Franke.
“The right of eminent domain is a necessary evil,” said Attorney Paul Agathan, who represents more than 1,000 members of the Missouri Landowners Alliance. “Landowners can take solace in that it benefits their community, their state. That is not the case with high powered merchant lines.”
The measure under consideration removes private, for-profit companies — like the one that owns the proposed Grain Belt Express — from being able to use eminent domain to acquire the necessary land.
Supporters of the bill contend that the line is not in the interest of Missourians — particularly since only 12 percent of the energy transferred along the line will be used in Missouri. They also argued that the owners of the companies are not from Missouri, some are from outside the United States, and that they have no stake in the welfare of the state.
It was also argued that the line would be taking land that the landowner may have plans for in the future.
“I want you to think about the farmer out here. You’re not gonna lose just that easement, you’re gonna lose production of all the ground they come across,” said Marilyn O’Bannon, a landowner in Monroe County.