JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - The Grain Belt Express project that would run high-voltage electric lines from Kansas wind fields through northern Missouri has cleared a key regulatory hurdle.
Landowner groups immediately vowed to fight the decision.
The project, which would carry power to Indiana, has been caught up in legal battles in Missouri for several years, as some landowners and advocacy groups have fought plans to acquire land for the transmission line.
The line would be built across Buchannan, Clinton, Caldwell, Carroll, Chariton, Randolph, Monroe and Ralls counties.
The Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities in the state, on Wednesday granted the project a certificiate of convenience and necessity, allowing it to proceed from a regulatory standpoint. The commission held hearings in December to hear the pros and cons of the project.
The commission determined there is a need for the project, that the company overseeing it has the financial ability to provide the service, that the proposal is economically feasible and that it promotes the public interest.
The commission found that evidence in the case showed the project will benefit Missouri utility customers in the short and long term, according to a commission news release. Many of the landowners' concerns about the project "will be addressed through carefully considered conditions placed on the CCN," according to the release.
The Missouri Landowners Alliance and Eastern Missouri Landowners Alliance said in a news release Wednesday that they plan to continue fighting the decision, claiming the Grain Belt should not be considered a public utility under the law and thus not endowed with eminent domain powers.
The groups in their release said counties crossed by the line have authority under state law to deny Grain Belt access to land. Legislation has also been introduced in the Missouri General Assembly to prevent the use of eminent domain by non-public utilities.
The Missouri Farm Bureau, another group that has opposed the project, released a statement Wednesday afternoon saying a company run by private investors should not have eminent domain powers.
“This decision sets precedent for private companies to buy land on the cheap and profit at the expense of Missouri citizens," Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst said in a written statement. "The company is also clearly financially incapable of following through on its promises, and its acquisition by a potential financing partner has not been fully vetted. Allowing the project to proceed places hundreds of Missouri landowners at risk of having their land taken for a project that may never be completed.”
In a statement Invenergy, the company overseeing the project, emphasized the project's public benefits.
"The Order confirms that the Grain Belt Express project is in the public interest and is good for Missouri. The Grain Belt Express project is made stronger through Invenergy’s participation because of our strong record of project execution, strong financial position, community partnerships, and landowner relationships," company spokeswoman Beth Conley said in a statement.
The project was created by Texas-based Clean Line Energy Partners but acquired late last year by Invenergy. The Public Service Commission now must approve Invenergy's acquisition of the project. A hearing is set in that case for April 23 and April 24.
In July, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in the project's favor after the PSC initially denied the Grain Belt Express because the company hadn't received permission from eight counties it was going to build across.
The Missouri Public Utility Alliance praised the unanimous decision in a news release, saying the project will bring more low-cost, clean energy to Missouri. The Missouri Joint Municipal Electric Utility Commission in June 2016 approved a proposal to purchase long-term transmission service from Grain Belt.