Staff for state regulators joined rural landowners Monday in urging Missouri's utility oversight panel to reject a proposed high-voltage power line that has been touted as a way to carry wind energy eastward from the plains of Kansas.
The $2.2 billion Grain Belt Express would transmit electricity from Dodge City, Kansas, across northern Missouri and Illinois to a substation in Sullivan, Indiana. Some of the electricity also would be available for Missouri utilities.
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Because Missouri sits in the middle of the path, approval from the state Public Service Commission is vital for the project to go forward.
But commission staff — who make recommendations to the five-person regulatory board — expressed opposition Monday, which could prove to be a significant hurdle for Clean Line Energy Partners, the Houston-based company seeking to build the power line. Commission staff said the company has neither shown the need for the power line in Missouri, nor that it's economically feasible and in the public interest — three of the five factors the commission considers in its analysis.
Attorneys for landowners opposed to the project also pointed out the company does not yet have contracts to build it, generators lined up to supply power or customers to purchase that power. They called the request for Missouri regulatory approval speculative and premature.
But Clean Line officials said all of those things are likely to follow if it gets approval from Missouri and Illinois, as it already has in Kansas and Indiana. An attorney for the company compared the high-voltage power line to other historic infrastructure developments that have transformed the economy, such as major bridges over bodies of water, the national highway system and the Panama Canal.
The power line is "a bridge to our energy future" that "provides a wonderful opportunity for the state of Missouri and the region," said Karl Zobrist, an attorney for Clean Line who is a former executive for Indiana-based regional power transmission entity Midcontinent Independent System Operator Inc.
The Grain Belt Express is promoted as a means of transmitting wind-powered electricity to utilities that need to comply with federal or state guidelines for obtaining a certain percentage of power from renewable energy sources. But federal rules require open access, meaning a coal-fired power plant also could use the line to transmit its energy.
Supporters of the project include the Sierra Club, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and wind energy developers.
The line would carry a direct current of electricity, which Clean Line says is more efficient, more affordable and requires less of an easement from property owners than the more common alternating current.
About 530 Missouri landowners are in the path of the proposed power line, which would cross the Missouri River south of St. Joseph and cut east across eight mostly rural counties before crossing the Mississippi River south of Hannibal. The project would include a converter station in Ralls County that would allow the delivery of up to 500 megawatts of electricity to the state's power grid.
Some landowners fear the high-voltage wires could reduce property values and impede farming.
"Grain Belt's proposed route goes through some of the most rich and productive farm land in the country," said Terry Jarrett, an attorney who used to serve on the PSC and now represents the group Show Me Concerned Landowners.
The regulatory hearings are to continue over the next couple of weeks.
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