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Grain Belt Express promises to follow eminent domain law, agriculture groups skeptical

Jefferson City, Mo. — After a strongly worded demand from all of the Missouri agriculture community, the Grain Belt Express has agreed to follow the eminent domain law passed this past session as it builds its Tiger Connector line through Audrain, Callaway, and Monroe Counties.

The Farm Bureau called out Invenergy, the owner of the Grain Belt Express transmission line project, for trying to skirt the new eminent domain laws laid out in House Bill 2005.

The Grain Belt Express transmission line has been a source of conflict for nearly ten years including in 2019 when the Missouri Public Service Commission gave the project eminent domain authority to build its new power line after previously rejecting their application.

Invenergy acquired the project in 2018 but did not draft the original plans.

In response to eminent domain concerns stemming from the project, the Missouri legislature passed HB 2005 during the spring session. HB 2005 sets new rules for eminent domain proceedings during transmission line projects.

Among other things, HB 2005 sets a floor of compensation for Missouri landowners who go through eminent domain proceedings. The compensation promised is 150% of “fair market value,” a figure that will be determined by the courts.

However, many stakeholders were disappointed to see that HB 2005’s rules do not apply retroactively, the law does not take effect until Aug. 28. This means that the Grain Belt Express transmission line, the original source of eminent domain concern, is not beholden to HB 2005’s provisions.

The Chicago-based energy company plans to build an addition to the Grain Belt Express in Mid-Missouri, called the Tiger Connector. Invenergy claims the connector will bring significant energy benefits to Missouri, connecting its transmission line to existing power infrastructure in Callaway County. The project is expected to bring 5x more energy to Missouri from the Grain Belt Express, according to Invenergy’s website.

The groups put out a press release on the situation Thursday afternoon. 

Grain Belt was originally attempting to claim that the Tiger Connector Line was simply an extension of the original line and not a new project. The alleged attempt to skirt the new law happened earlier in July, according to Garrett Hawkins, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau.

“It all comes down to the timing of the announcement. And the timing of their most recent filing, you see that they had made a request with the Public Service Commission in July to amend the existing case,” Hawkins said. “The PSC denied that and now has said a new file will be created. So that filing within the PSC led farmers and landowners to believe that Invenergy was trying to get ahead of this new law taking effect.”

“This will play out within the Public Service Commission,” Hawkins added. “In the meantime, we believe Invenergy on its own can do the right thing by acknowledging publicly that they intend to adhere to the provisions embodied in HB 2005.”

In response, Invenergy released a statement Friday morning.

“We plan to honor these wishes by compensating Grain Belt Express Tiger Connector landowners at 150% of fair market value for easement payments while also designing the project to be capable of delivering half of the line’s capacity to Missouri,” the statement reads.

The Farm Bureau and other agriculture groups aren’t so sure about Invenergy’s promises.

“Unfortunately, we have been given no reason to take their words to heart,” Mike Deering, executive vice president of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association said. “The relationship has been mired with deception and outright lies to landowners. While this news is encouraging — you’ve got to show me.”

Hawkins was pleased to see the announcement but doesn’t plan to let up on the Invenergy going forward.

“It’s encouraging to see Grain Belt announce that they will follow the law,” Hawkins said. “This will be a situation of trust, but verify and you can count on members of the Missouri Farm Bureau to be at the public meetings on the project.”

Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, sponsored HB 2005 through the House during spring session. He believes that legislators would be willing to take action should Grain Belt Express circumvent the law.

“There are a lot of Reps and Senators that are very concerned about what’s taken place,” Haffner said. “I’ll be watching the proceedings in the PSC very closely.”

Featued Image: Missouri Farm Bureau President Garrett Hawkins on “This Week in Missouri Politics.”