Invenergy sweetens their offer with the addition of broadband infrastructure to the Grain Belt Express.

Invenergy announced its plans to include broadband capability on the Grain Belt Express transmission project's infrastructure that would come at no additional cost to Missouri communities or taxpayers, the company says.

As the company approved to build the Grain Belt Express transmission line, Invenergy said that discussions are underway with Missouri internet providers who could use the infrastructure to provide internet for underserved Missourians.

Missouri utility regulators approved the acquisition of the Grain Belt project by Invenergy, a Chicago firm, in 2019, which was essential for Invenergy to buy the rights to construct the Grain Belt Express transmission line. The Grain Belt Express would run 800 miles between Kansas and Indiana, and the Missouri portion of the route would run 200 miles spanning eight rural counties in Buchanan, Clinton, Caldwell, Carroll, Chariton, Randolph, Monroe and Ralls.

Invenergy said the company's estimates show that more than 250,000 rural Missouri households, as well as schools and hospitals located within 50 miles of the Grain Belt Express route, do not have broadband access and would benefit from this new infrastructure.

"We are very invested in the communities where we develop and build projects and where Invenergy employees live and work," Spokeswoman for Invenergy Beth Conley said. "Broadband is a natural fit for this project and, working with local internet service providers, we are pleased to add it to the list of benefits Grain Belt Express will deliver to Missouri."

Invenergy said it would seek permission from landowners to consolidate this infrastructure in project easements along the Missouri Public Service Commission approved route. 

Based on projections for 35 cities that are participating in the Missouri Public Energy pool that would receive the wind power, Rolla Municipal Utilities could see its wholesale cost go down 5 percent with Rolla benefiting from an estimated $1.24 million in annual electric savings if the project is given the official green light. 

Legislation advancing in 2020 opposing the Grain Belt Express

The Grain Belt Express project was still looking viable by the end of the 2019 Missouri legislative session, considering House Bill 1062 that concerned land rights and eminent domain never came to a vote and remained on the agenda.

However, earlier this year, the Missouri House passed a new bill as another attempt to block the construction of the wind-energy transmission line. An identical bill was also heard by the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment Committee and received a "do pass" recommendation.

House Bill 2033, sponsored by state Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Frankford, and Senate Bill 597, sponsored by state Sen. Justin Brown, R-Rolla, would deny the use of eminent domain to builders of the Grain Belt Express project.

HB 2033 passed the House by a vote of 118-42 and says, "no entity shall have the power of eminent domain... to construct above-ground merchant lines."

SB 597 "limits the ability of a utility company to take private property by force when they're not serving retail customers in Missouri," Brown said in his Jan. 30 capitol report.

Brown said the bill was written in response to a large electric power transmission line an out-of-state developer wants to build across northern Missouri.

"Building a power line is one thing when property owners agree to sell rights to their land. It's something else when the developer tries to take land using a utility's power of eminent domain," Brown said.

Both bills have now moved to the full Senate for its consideration.