State high court gives Grain Belt wind energy project another chance at approval

The Grain Belt Express wind energy project will be sent back to Missouri’s Public Service Commission, following a unanimous ruling Tuesday by the state Supreme Court.

The proposed Grain Belt Express Clean Line would carry wind-generated electricity 780 miles from western Kansas through Missouri, Illinois and Indiana via an energy transmission line.

In 2016, Grain Belt applied to the Missouri Public Service Commission for a certificate of convenience and necessity. It was denied in August 2017, though four of five commissioners said in a concurring opinion that the project would be in the public’s best interest. Grain Belt asked the Missouri Supreme Court to take up the case in October. The Court heard arguments for the case in April.

Tuesday’s opinion sends the issue back to the commission to determine whether the proposed project is “necessary or convenient for the public service.”

Paul Agathan, an attorney representing more than 1,000 members of the Missouri Landowners Alliance, said Tuesday’s decision was a “setback,” but that his clients would continue fighting the plan in front of state regulators, the Associated Press reports.

The transmission line would enter Missouri south of St. Joseph, run 206 miles through eight counties, and exit the state south of Hannibal. Grain Belt has argued that the project will bring jobs and affordable energy to Missouri.

Michael Skelly, founder and president of Clean Line Energy Partners — the Houston-based company behind the proposed line — said the project would bring manufacturing jobs to Missouri.

“A lot of components in the transmission line would be manufactured in Missouri,” he said.

The court ruled Tuesday that the commission had “erroneously concluded” that it could not grant the certificate before Grain Belt received the consent of every county involved.

The line would connect to Missouri’s grid through “transmission owners, such as Ameren Missouri,” according to court documents filed on behalf of Grain Belt.

“The Missouri Supreme Court ruled in favor of not only clean energy for the state of Missouri but for a more prosperous economy,” James Owen, executive director of Renew Missouri, said in a statement. Renew Missouri is a nonprofit focused on renewable energy and energy efficiency policy.

Skelly said that during the permitting process Grain Belt received support from commercial and industrial customers who want more renewable energy for their facilities.

The Missouri Public Service Commission declined to comment on the ruling.

Despite the delays in the process, Skelly remains hopeful.

“We’re optimistic,” Skelly said. “This is a big step forward.”

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