Another obstacle looms in the path of the Grain Belt Express that is intended to move wind power from the west, where there is an abundance of wind, to the east where power is needed.
After multiple delays the Missouri Public Service Commission ultimately gave the Grain Belt Express project the green light in March; however, when the legislature convened this spring Missouri Rep. Jim Hansen introduced House Bill 1062 that concerns land rights and eminent domain.
During the Rolla City Council meeting, Rolla Municipal Utilities General Manager Rodney Bourne spoke to the importance of the infrastructure project that the Missouri Public Service Commission had approved in March 2019, and had previously determined was in the State’s best interest, yet decided it was unable to grant approval of the Grain Belt Express Clean Line transmission line in 2017 because of a technicality of not securing road crossing permission from each county it would transverse.
Following the Missouri Public Service Commission’s rejection in August 2017, in October 2017, the Grain Belt Express filed an application for transfer of its appeal with the Eastern District Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court of Missouri.
The application was a request for the Supreme Court to take up the case before resolution in the Court of Appeals, according to the statement released by Clean Line Energy President Michael Skelly. The Grain Belt Express made this request due to the immediate financial impact to Missouri consumers and taxpayers caused by an extended legal delay, as well as the statewide implications of stripping the Missouri Public Service Commission of its long-held authority.
The case sought to establish that the Missouri Public Service Commission is divested of its role in regulating electrical utilities and exclusively determining whether utility projects are in the best interest of the state of Missouri.
“The Missouri Supreme Court said the Public Service Commission had errored in their decision and reprimanded it back to the Public Service Commission and said you need to re-hear this, and here are the rules you need to think about, so they had a third hearing and in the third hearing in March of 2019 the project was approved,” Bourne said.
Now with the introduction of House Bill 1062 the project could have a further derailment, and Bourne recommended at the city council meeting for the community to reach out to legislators and oppose House Bill 1062, which was introduced to counter the Public Service Commission’s ruling on the Grain Belt project. Without the benefit of eminent domain the project owners will have to find economically feasible alternate routes or this could potentially tank the project.
“The Bill would basically pull the legs out from under this company in building the project by basically denying them from using eminent domain. That is always the last resort a company would do, and the Missouri Public Service Commission in all of their hearings listened to the landowners, were very concerned about the landowners this would effect and put a lot of protections in their order, wrote them into the order and made sure to protect landowners and make sure there was good faith in negotiations,” Bourne said.
Bourne added that the introduction of House Bill 1062 is more about the line itself since “this is a 260 mile line across the state; only nine acres of agriculture land can be taken out of production due to the construction of this facility.”
RMU currently has an expiring contract for coal power, which RMU purchases from facilities in Illinois — that can be replaced with the wind power from western Kansas along with various natural gas facilities RMU already has the rights to. According to Bourne, this means lower cost, and “based on projections for 35 cities that are participating and could receive this power, we could see our wholesale cost go down 5 percent.”
“That is over $1 million. That is real money. This is real benefits not just for Rolla, but a lot of our communities, especially in the northern part of the state. We are the biggest city in our power pool, but 25 cities of our 35 cities have a population of 5,000, or less, typically located in Northern Missouri,” Bourne said. “A lot of them in economically depressed areas, where a 5 percent reduction in a wholesale cost is a really big deal, especially for our smaller communities, it allows them to reinvest in their facilities, possibly rate stabilization and rate reductions or any combination of those things.”
Bourne added he wanted to get the message out because the Grain Belt Express project is pertinent to the area and will have a positive impact on the community and surrounding communities, in addition to the Public Service Commission having stated that there is a public benefit for the project after carrying out a lengthy deliberation, not once but three times, to make sure they were doing the right thing before signing off and giving the project the green light.