JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Grain Belt Express Clean Line is an overhead transmission line intending to deliver up to 3,500 megawatts of low cost wind energy to Midwest and Eastern states from a concentrated wind farm in southwest Kansas.
According to reports from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the existing transmission system in the U.S. suffer substantial losses in energy as the power travels across the grid.
“National electricity transmission and distribution losses average about 6% of the electricity that is transmitted and distributed in the United States each year,” the EIA states.
The existing transmission system in the U.S. relies on an alternating current (AC) system. Clean Line transmission proposal would utilize direct current (DC) transmission, a method intended to result in fewer energy losses and less land consumption for the infrastructure. Direct current converter stations also provide the option for operators to regulate the concentration of power being distributed.
On March 26, Houston-based Clean Line Energy Partners submitted an application for approval to the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) to obtain a certificate of convenience and necessity.
The PSC is a regulatory agency of Missouri who oversees safety and quality of service of investor owned electric, natural gas, water and sewer utilities.
If approved, Clean Line would have the clearance to “construct, own, operate, control manage and maintain a high voltage, direct current transmission line and an associated converter station” reads the application.
Approval would also give Clean Line the jurisdiction to use eminent domain to obtain property to construct the line upon – one of the major qualms opposition in Missouri has with the project.
The Grain Belt Express has been endorsed by the Missouri Sierra Club Chapter, and most recently gained official support for the city of Columbia, Mo.
In November 2008, Missouri voters passed a ballot initiative Proposition C calling for 15 percent of Missouri’s energy generated by renewable energy sources. Missouri Sierra Club believes it will help generate more reliable and cost effective renewable energy options in the state and decrease Missouri’s coal usage.
To meet these portfolio needs through Missouri-generated renewable energy power only would be a challenge. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Missouri is 37th in total electricity generation from renewable energy resources in Missouri.
Out of state clean energy options, such as the Kansas wind power traveling along the line, have the capacity to help fill potential gaps in Missouri’s renewable energy goals.
The line would be constructed through northwest Missouri counties of Buchanan, Clinton, Caldwell, Carroll, Chariton, Randolph, Monroe and Ralls. One of the three converter stations along the line will be built in Ralls County.
Clean Line will pay the complete cost of development, construction and operation of the project – a total of $2.2 billion. Their intent is to recover costs be selling transmission service both to the wind power generators and power utilities consuming energy off of the line.
In May 2014, the Grain Belt Express Clean Line was authorized by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to sell transmission services to utilities and clean energy providers. Clean Line was also sanctioned to negotiate bilateral agreement for the entirety of the line’s capacity.
The wind-generated power is set to travel the line to Midwest and other eastern states, but several Missouri residents have shown concern over how little, if any, of the power will make it to Missouri consumers.
The application reads the HVDC power line “will deliver up to 500 megawatts of low-cost, wind-generated power from western Kansas into Missouri”.
While only a portion of the power running across the line will land in Missouri, 500 megawatts has the potential to power 200,000 houses. The Missouri portion of the line would be approximately over 200 miles of the 750-mile project. For Missouri usage purposes, the line will connect both to the Midcontinent ISO (MISO) market.
The Grain Belt Express Clean Line was approved by the Kansas Corporation Commission in November 2013, and granted utility status in Indiana in May 2013. The line will next be targeting the Illinois general community and file for approval with Illinois officials in 2015. The forecasted timeline for the project asserts construction in all states will begin in 2016 and the line is to completed in 2018.
Mark Lawlor, director of development at Clean Line Energy Partners, testified to the Kansas legislature in 2011 of the project’s overall benefits.
“The project will move some of the highest capacity factor wind to market that can use a stable, cost-effective renewable energy product to either diversity their generation mix or satisfy state renewable portfolio goals,” Lawlor said.
A series of public hearings were held in rural towns across the line’s projected route in an effort to obtain perspective from the landowners and area stakeholders. Cari Van Amburg, an analyst for the Grain Belt Express Clean Line project said approximately one third of the individuals spoke in favor of the clean energy project, while the remaining two-thirds claiming an inappropriate use of eminent domain, along with the potential health hazards, potential property value loss and agricultural risks associated with the electricity line running through their land.
The Clean Line agricultural assessment reviews their various plans to mitigate the potential impacts to the rural land in an effort to address landowner and farmer owner concerns. The assessment covers various drain and soil conservation practices, responsible reclamation of land post-construction and ensures extra care will be taken before proceeding upon land that utilizes specialty or organic crop production practices.
In addition, Clean Line created a thorough two-fold landowner compensation procedure. Landowners are set to receive an easement payment and structure payments. The easement based on the market value of the land area, and landowners will receive 100% of the assessed market value of the land.
The structure payment is based on the type and amount of infrastructure pieces that will be placed on the land, and landowner may choose to receive this payment all at once or in annual payments. Clean Line guarantees to pay for any subsequent damages that may occur.
The structural components taking up space in Missouri will consist of a variety of different monopole structures, ranging from 110-150 ft. in height.
The opposition group, formally titled Block Grain Belt Express, has also expressed concern regarding whether the line would remain a renewable energy-only transmission line. A large sect of this group belongs to the Missouri Landowners Alliance, a non-profit corporation organized in 2014.
The PSC approval process requires an extensive investigation process, including formal evidentiary hearings, absorbing testimonies or recommendations from outside parties and finally making a decision based on the surrounding evidence. The decision is then subject to appeal to the courts.
As of Monday, Oct. 27, the PSC is anticipating testimonies from the Missouri Farm Bureau, Tradewind, Missouri Landowners Alliance, International Brotherhood of Electrical workers and a wide mix of representatives and specialists from the Grain Belt Express Clean Line.
PSC evidentiary hearings for the Grain Belt Express Clean Line will take place Nov. 10, Nov. 12 to Nov. 14 and Nov. 21 in Jefferson City, Room 310 of the Government Office Building.
Kelsey Wingo is the multimedia reporter for The Missouri Times, and a senior at the University of Missouri. She will be graduating in Spring 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. Readers can contact Kelsey by calling her cell phone at 417-343-0508 or via Twitter @kels_wingo.