For the better part of the last century, Missouri law has been very consistent about what needs to happen for a large-scale energy infrastructure project to get approved in the Show-Me State. It’s a grueling process through the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC), but it’s fair. Unfortunately, some in Jefferson City seem to believe that lawmakers should insert themselves in this process in order to pick winners and losers, an action that would be abhorrent to conservatives like me.
Worse yet, these lawmakers don’t just want to make this change moving forward but want to retroactively reject a project, the Grain Belt Express, which has already been approved and is bringing millions of dollars to Missouri as we speak.
After more than five years of landowner outreach and regulatory review, the PSC approved the Grain Belt Express in 2019. The project was approved unanimously with two Democratic commissioners joining all three Republican commissioners to approve the critical direct current transmission line. Every level of the Missouri court system has since upheld the PSC’s decision, and development has gotten underway with millions of dollars invested into the project itself and into Missouri’s economy.
It’s not hard to understand why the project was approved after such long, intense regulatory review. When built, the Grain Belt Express will deliver clean, cheap wind-based energy from Kansas to Missouri and other states to the east. At least 500 megawatts will be available to our state with 39 Missouri communities committed to getting power from the Grain Belt Express, saving Missouri families and businesses more than $12 million annually. Additionally, the project supports thousands of much-needed jobs. There is even the opportunity to add broadband infrastructure alongside the power line, bringing high-speed internet infrastructure to more of Missouri’s rural communities. The power delivered through these lines is expected to supply 1.6 million homes.
Unlike most other public utility projects, the Grain Belt Express is paying landowners 110 percent of the assessed valuation for easements along the route in addition to payments for each and every structure on their property. In all, Missouri landowners are expected to receive roughly $35 million for hosting this project. As part of these easement agreements, landowners retain the ownership of their land and can continue to use the land around the power line as they otherwise would.
The U.S. and Missouri constitutions prohibit laws that retrospectively impair contracts but that’s exactly what HB 527 would do. It would retroactively kill this critical energy infrastructure project by changing the law that had allowed it to go forward. HB 527 would also run afoul of the constitutional provision which prohibits legislation from individually targeting one person or company. Failing to abide by these constitutional prohibitions would put Missouri taxpayers on the hook for significant lawsuit payouts and litigation costs.
Over the next several weeks, senators from both parties are going to have to decide whether they want to help generate millions in economic activity and lower energy costs. As a conservative, pro-job growth policymaker, the only prudent path forward is to defeat HB 527 and let this privately funded project continue to invest millions in our rural areas, strengthen our local energy supply, and help assure our energy independence.
Sen. Bill White is a Republican who represents SD 32 which includes Dade, Jasper, and Newton counties. He is the vice-chairman of the Senate Governmental Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee.