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Mo. court rejects landowner challenge to Grain Belt Express transmission line

A Missouri appellate court has affirmed a decision by state utility regulators to approve the Grain Belt Express transmission project.

In a Dec. 17 opinion, the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District rejected arguments from the Missouri Landowners Alliance and Missouri Farm Bureau that the state Public Service Commission erred in approving the transmission line. The commission in March granted Clean Line Energy Partners LLC subsidiary Grain Belt Express Clean Line LLC a certificate of convenience and necessity for the project, finding it to have economic, environmental and other benefits for Missouri.

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 Missouri Landowners Alliance had argued that the commission erred in admitting into evidence, and/or in denying access to, certain documents or testimony. The court said those arguments lacked merit and "[The Missouri Landowners Alliance] has failed to meet its burden to prove by clear and satisfactory evidence that the commission's order was unlawful or unreasonable."

The court similarly rejected the Missouri Farm Bureau's contention that the commission did not have the authority to approve the project because Grain Belt "does not meet the statutory definition of 'electrical corporation' or a public utility providing a public use or service."

In particular, the court said evidence showed that the project will deliver energy to Missouri customers.

"An entity, such as Grain Belt, that constructs and operates a transmission line bringing electrical energy from electrical power generators to public utilities that serve consumers is a necessary and important link in the distribution of electricity and qualifies as a public utility," the court said. "Therefore, Grain Belt's project will serve the public use, and Grain Belt qualifies as a public utility."

Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst on Dec. 17 disagreed with that determination.

"Grain Belt Express is not a public utility," he said in a statement. "Investors who want to negotiate rates privately and enter into contracts to sell electricity to the highest bidders should not be able to condemn land in order to build their dream project."

The commission in June signed off on an Invenergy LLC affiliate's plan to buy the project. A representative with that company did not respond to a request for comment by press time on Dec. 18.

Some state lawmakers earlier in 2019 tried to advance a bill barring developers from using eminent domain to acquire easements for the project. The state House of Representatives approved the measure in April, but the bill subsequently failed to clear the Senate.