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Mo. lawmaker revives bill targeting Grain Belt Express transmission line

Missouri lawmakers are once again considering a bill aimed at the Grain Belt Express transmission project.

Sponsored by state Rep. Jim Hansen, a Republican, House Bill 2033 would prevent developers of the high-voltage, direct-current transmission line from using eminent domain to take land for the project. Members of the House General Laws Committee advanced the bill Jan. 14. The proposal is next scheduled for a Jan. 15 hearing before the House Legislative Oversight Committee.

Hansen sponsored similar legislation in 2019 that passed the House but subsequently failed to clear the Senate.

The Grain Belt Express project would run roughly 780 miles from western Kansas through Missouri and Illinois and into Indiana, delivering 500 MW of largely wind-generated power to customers in Missouri and another 3,500 MW to states farther east. Approximately 206 miles of the transmission line is to run through Missouri.

The project has come up against resistance by some landowners in Missouri who have fought the project in state court and in the state General Assembly.

A state appellate court in December 2019 affirmed the state Public Service Commission's decision in March 2019 to grant Clean Line Energy Partners LLC subsidiary Grain Belt Express Clean Line LLC a certificate of convenience and necessity for the project. The commission in June 2019 signed off on an Invenergy LLC affiliate's plan to buy the project.

The bill specifically prohibits private entities from using eminent domain to build an above-ground merchant transmission line. The bill defines a private entity as "a utility company that does not provide service to end-use customers or provide retail service in Missouri, or does not collect its costs to provide service under a regional transmission organization tariff, regardless of whether it has received a certificate of convenience and necessity from the public service commission."

The House General Laws Committee held a hearing on the proposal Jan. 13. Nicole Luckey, director of regulatory affairs at Invenergy, told lawmakers that landowners will be given a fair deal. According to prepared remarks reflecting her testimony, Luckey said the company is not seeking ownership of land, but rather an easement over property.

Landowners will keep full ownership of the land in the easement area and can still use the land for activities such as farming, grazing and recreation that do not interfere with the operation of the transmission line, Luckey said. Further, Invenergy will pay landowners 110% of the market value of the land for the easement, plus a structure payment that can be taken in a lump sum or annual payment.

Luckey also pointed to economic benefits from the project, saying it represents a $500 million infrastructure investment in Missouri that will create thousands of jobs.

Invenergy spokesperson Beth Conley said Jan. 14 that the company looks forward to making its case for the project to lawmakers.