Missouri Supreme Court reverses rejection of massive Grain Belt Express wind line

Clean Line Energy Partners got a surprise ruling this week in which the Missouri Supreme Court said state regulators got it wrong in rejecting the company’s proposed 780 mile wind powered electric line known as the Grain Belt Express.

Clean Line went to court after Missouri regulators blocked the transmission line from western Kansas and across Missouri and Illinois. The $2.3 billion project would carry electricity eventually to the eastern U.S.

“The project has been on standby while we awaited the Missouri Supreme Court decision,” Clean Line President Michael Skelly said. “Now with this decision, we can get back after it.”

Missouri was the only state blocking the project but in March, an Illinois appeals court overturned that state’s approval.

Skelly said the Houston-based renewable energy firm still has a clear path toward winning Illinois approval by first acquiring ownership of some utility property and then reapplying.

Attorney Paul Agathan, who represents more than 1,000 members of the Missouri Landowners Alliance, said his clients would continue fighting the power line before state regulators and county commissioners, who still would eventually have to sign off on permits for the power line to cross roads.

“It’s not over, but it’s obviously a setback for us,” he said.

Clean Line Energy has worked on the Grain Belt Express for 8 years but dirt has yet to be turned in the start of construction. The company now hopes the project could be online by 2023 or 2024.

The Missouri Public Service Commission originally rejected the project in July 2015 while determining it had little benefit for Missouri consumers and citing the burden it would impose on landowners in its path.

Clean Line reapplied after striking a deal to sell some of the power to a coalition of Missouri municipal utilities.

In August 2017, a majority of regulatory commissioners said they believed the project was needed, beneficial to the public and economically feasible. But they again rejected it , this time citing a court ruling in an unrelated case that said power companies first needed approval from all the counties where they planned to string lines across roads.

The high court ruled unanimously that Clean Line does not need to get consent from counties before the state Public Service Commission can grant its approval. The court directed the regulatory panel to re-evaluate Clean Line’s application.

The decision was cheered by renewable energy advocates but denounced by Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst, who said in a statement that it “makes it dangerously easy for property owners’ land to be taken by eminent domain for merchant transmission lines.”