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PSC approves massive transmission project facilitating renewable energy, economic growth

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) unanimously approved a certificate of convenience and necessity for the Grain Belt Express Clean Line to construct and manage a new transmission line that will develop renewable energy and facilitate economic growth in the state.

The commission noted a variation of this case has been ongoing for several years but was pleased with the language in the newest order, noting it will be an “excellent start” for Missouri in developing renewable energy, provide more job opportunities during the construction phase of the project, and includes protections for landowners’ interests.

The Grain Belt Express Clean Line project will 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.

“Similar to the trains that carry grain harvested in the Midwest to market, the Grain Belt Express Clean Line will move wind energy from its source in the grain belt of the country to markets with a strong demand for low-cost, clean power,” the project description states.

The line will extend throughout eight Missouri counties: Buchanan, Clinton, Caldwell, Carroll, Chariton, Randolph, Monroe, and Ralls.

In approving the project Wednesday morning, the PSC said it determined a need for the service, Grain Belt’s financial ability and qualifications to provide the service, the economic feasibility of the project, and the service’s promotion to the public interest.

“There can be no debate that our energy future will require more diversity in energy resources, particularly renewable resources,” the commission said. “We are witnessing a worldwide, long-term, and comprehensive movement towards renewable energy in general and wind energy specifically.”

“Wind energy provides great promise as a source for affordable, reliable, safe, and environmentally-friendly energy. The Grain Belt Project will facilitate this movement in Missouri, will thereby benefit Missouri citizens, and is, therefore, in the public interest,” the PSC concluded.

The commission said 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.

The commission’s decision was praised by Missouri Public Utility Alliance President Duncan Kincheloe, who said the project and power purchase wind energy agreement “will deliver low-cost renewable electricity to Missouri homes and businesses, saving 39 non-profit municipal utilities in Missouri more than $10 million annually.”

However, Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst lambasted the decision, citing concerns over the company’s regulatory status and eminent domain.

“This decision sets precedent for private companies to buy land on the cheap and profit at the expense of Missouri citizens,” Hurst said. “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.”

Additionally, the PSC approved several tariff adjustments for multiple companies, including Veolia Energy and Kansas City Power and Light Company (KCP&L) Wednesday morning.

The commission said the change in KCP&L’s fuel adjustment charge (FAC), which is expected to go into effect on April 1, will save residential customers about $1.46 per month. The FAC allows the company to recover up to 95 percent of costs to encourage conservation in fuel use and allows it to pass increases or decreases in its net fuel and purchased power costs to customers outside of a general rate case, the commission said.

Any charges stemming from the fuel adjustment clause must be specifically designated on a customer’s bill, the commission said.

The committee approved a deadline extension request from Ameren for a study regarding its continued participation in the Midcontinent Independent System Operator. Although it was unanimously approved, Commissioner Daniel Hall noted the PSC has extended the deadline three times now and encouraged the parties involved to come together to determine “a less rigorous process” to complete it.

The PSC also approved an order denying Spire’s request for an accounting authority order (AAO). The commission noted the natural gas distribution company has legitimate concerns, but an AAO “isn’t appropriate under the circumstances.”

The PSC said it undertook a review of its rules following an executive order from the governor and approved a few orders of rulemaking Wednesday as well.