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Invenergy to buy Grain Belt Express transmission project from Clean Line

Invenergy LLC will acquire from Clean Line Energy Partners LLC the Grain Belt Express project, a proposed high-voltage, direct-current transmission line crossing four Midwestern states.

The transmission line is proposed to run roughly 780 miles from western Kansas through Missouri and Illinois and into Indiana, delivering wind-generated power into the PJM Interconnection market.

Invenergy's Nov. 12 press release did not disclose a purchase price. However, the company, which has developed more than 20,000 MW of renewable and other clean energy generation and storage projects, said the Grain Belt Express will further its commitment to rural economic development and job creation.

The company said new transmission infrastructure is "critical" to supporting the addition of a significant amount of renewable and clean generation sources to the country's electricity mix.

"Adding the Grain Belt Express to the more than 400 miles of transmission infrastructure that Invenergy has successfully developed in the United States will provide American homes and businesses with access to some of the lowest-cost renewable energy in the country," the company said.

Invenergy did not offer additional comment on Nov. 13. A representative for Clean Line did not immediately offer a comment on the deal, but regulatory filings in Missouri shed some more light on the planned ownership change.

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First proposed in 2009, the Grain Belt Express project has been approved by regulators in Kansas, Illinois and Indiana, but has faced hurdles, most notably in Missouri, where the state Public Service Commission has twice rejected Clean Line's permit application.

In July, the Missouri Supreme Court determined the commission was wrong to deny a construction permit for the project and remanded the matter back to the panel.

Evidentiary hearings on the request for a certificate of convenience and necessity for the project are scheduled to take place Dec. 18-19.

In testimony filed Nov. 12 with the Missouri commission in the case to decide on the certificate request, Clean Line Energy Partners Chairman Michael Skelly said he has "great confidence in Invenergy's managerial, financial and operational qualifications and resources to bring the project to completion."

Kris Zadlo, senior vice president of commercial analytics, regulatory affairs and transmission for Invenergy, told regulators that the company can successfully manage the project, having developed, permitted and constructed transmission and distribution infrastructure "across various terrains, state and local jurisdictions, and in vastly differing environmental and regulatory conditions."

Zadlo noted the ownership change needs approval from the Kansas Corporation Commission and the Missouri commission.

Another obstacle to the project emerged this year in Illinois. In March, the Appellate Court of Illinois' Fifth District sided with landowners and overturned a construction permit the Illinois Commerce Commission had granted.

Hans Detweiler, the lead developer of the Grain Belt Express project, told Missouri regulators that a new application will eventually be filed in Illinois.

Detweiler said the Kansas Corporation Commission in early October extended the term of a 2013 siting permit to March 1, 2019. The company wants a five-year extension of the siting permit order to Nov. 7, 2023. (KCC Docket No. 13-GBEE-803-MIS)

Once the company receives an extension of its Kansas siting permit to 2023, and after Missouri issues a certificate, it can acquire property in Illinois to be used for transmitting electricity that will allow the company to file a new application with Illinois regulators. (Missouri PSC Case No. EA-2016-0358)

This is the latest in a series of deals Clean Line has made over the last year in reducing its portfolio of development projects, some of which have been stalled for years by unfavorable regulatory decisions.

In December 2017, Clean Line sold the Oklahoma portion of the Plains & Eastern transmission project to NextEra Energy Inc. affiliate NextEra Energy Resources LLC.

In May, Clean Line sold the Western Spirit transmission project and the 1,000 MW Mesa Canyons Wind (Mesa Canyon Wind Farm) to Pattern Energy Group 2 LP. In July, ConnectGen, a startup company established by former Clean Line employees, acquired Clean Line's non-transmission development assets, including its interests in a 600-MW wind project and a series of utility-scale wind and battery storage development projects.