Missouri PSC Staff and Grain Belt Opposition Members Weigh In On Grain Belt
The Missouri Public Service (PSC) staff helps the commissioners determine whether or not to grant utilities a certificate allowing them to construct high-voltage power lines. For nearly five years the Texas based company Grain Belt Express has been attempting to gain access to eminent domain authority to build a High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) power line and has been vigorously opposed by landowners and Ag organizations. Grain Belt has previously been rejected by the commission two times. The first time the staff took the position that Grain Belt did not meet the necessary criteria in order to receive the commission. Their second attempt was short lived and was summarily rejected because they did not give proper notice prior to filing.
On January 24th the staff issued a rebuttal report which included the following information:
“In summary, based on Staff’s review:
1) Grain Belt does not have the consent of the Caldwell County Commission for its proposed transmission line to cross the public roads and highways in that county, the validity of its consent from the Monroe County Commission is being challenged in court, and presently, the pre-filed evidence does not include any such consents by the county commissions of Buchanan, Clinton, Caldwell, Carroll, Chariton, Randolph, Monroe and Ralls Counties;
2) There is not a clear need for the Project;
3) Grain Belt is qualified to construct, own, operate, control and manage the Project, but additional expertise will be needed once engineering and safety issues have been resolved;
4) Grain Belt has the financial ability to undertake the Project;
5) It is not clear whether the Project is economically feasible due to the lack of various RTO studies and the uncertainties surrounding the ATXI Mark Twain transmission line and its effects on the Missouri converter station and corresponding congestion;
6) A determination cannot be made at this time as to whether the Project is in the public interest since there is still uncertainty related to the economic feasibility and the safety of the Project.
It is Staff Counsel’s position that the Commission cannot grant a CCN absent Grain Belt receiving all county consents. Due to the lack of county consents and uncertainties related to: the modeling and a demonstration of the need for the Project; outstanding RTO studies; the pending ATXI Mark Twain transmission line project appeal by Neighbors United and the ATXI Mark Twain litigation on county consents and their potential effect on Grain Belt’s proposed Missouri converter station and corresponding congestion issues; and the lack of details on Grain Belt’s Emergency Response Plans, Staff cannot definitively state that the application satisfies the requirements of Commission Rule, 4 CSR 240-3.105 and the Tartan Factors of Need, Economic Feasibility and Public Interest.”
The staff has serious safety concerns related to the engineering and safety of the project. They state:
Staff Expert/Witness: Shawn E. Lange – “Potential effects on nearby utility facilities: The proposed route for the Grain Belt HVDC transmission line crosses a number of existing utilities in Missouri. Of the utilities that Grain Belt has identified it will cross, several are natural gas pipelines that are regulated by the Commission for safety. Additionally, several individuals expressed concerns in public comments regarding the proximity of the Grain Belt proposed HVDC transmission line to natural gas pipelines installed on or near their properties. Grain Belt’s application documents and the direct testimony Grain Belt witnesses provided in support of the application do not clearly address possible harmful effects on existing utilities or explain the measures that Grain Belt will implement to protect these utilities.”
Wiley Hibbard, presiding commissioner of Ralls County, was one of the approximately 20 individuals and groups that provided testimony. He stated, “One important factor that Mr. Tregnago did not mention is the impact on property value that a person will experience when a 150 foot tower is built near but not on his property. The property owner on the right-of-way will receive some compensation, but the nearby residents will receive nothing. To say the value of their property will not be reduced is absurd.”
“I have received reports that people have not been able to sell homes along the proposed routes. In one case, there is a lawsuit filed because the proposed line was not disclosed before the purchase. How can anyone say that a home with a 100 foot tall tower just across the street is worth the same as an identical home nowhere near the line? If indeed GBE pays anything like they say they will for property taxes, in the future the Counties will lose a significant portion of that or more in decreased values of existing homes and reduced construction of new ones near the line.”
“In my opinion, this whole project is an attempt by a small group of investors to make a large amount of profit from the wind energy generation from Kansas. They have offered the proverbial 30 pieces of silver to local governments. Some have apparently taken it. I for one will not choose to do so. They promise Ralls County a whole million dollars (they must think this is 1960) to sell out our future. It is asking a lot of us to have our land taken by force to enable a few to get rich. I believe that other elected office holders should think beyond just today."
"When I last checked in early January of this year, only three people had recorded GBE easement agreements with the Recorder’s office in Ralls County. On the other hand, I have not had anyone voice their support to me for the mega power line. No one at all. No one wants it or needs it, and they feel it is just a scam from a small group of investors to make a large amount of money by allowing a private company to take our land by force. I wholeheartedly agree!"
"I want the Commissioners to know that people of Ralls County have had their lives put on hold going on five years now. Families that had children in Jr. High School when this started will see them graduate High School this year. They have lived in turmoil and tension during their whole high school experience waiting and watching their parents fight to keep their land from being taken from them. Enough is enough. We are tired of a few short sighted elected officials with visions of dollar signs in their heads trying to prostitute our land and way of life for tax dollars which will be outweighed by the damage done from the proposed line.
Some may fall for the sell-out of their neighbors approach, but not most of the people of Ralls County. We see this for what it is: a land grab by a few to make money. The PSC turned this down before. In my opinion, nothing of significance has changed except that families have used their hard earned money to continue the fight against the GBE proposal. This is money they could have spent on their children, family vacations or many other needs. We have been fighting a long time, our plans have been on hold, farms not sold or purchased, irrigation equipment not purchased, houses neither built, sold or bought. We all have the right to support what we think is right, but using eminent domain and putting this world’s biggest transmission line across our counties would be a disaster for the people of northern Missouri."
Jennifer Gatrel, spokesperson for Block Grain Belt Express Missouri stated, “We are incredibly pleased that for the second time the PSC staff determined that Grain Belt does not meet the requirements to gain access to eminent domain authority. We are particularly happy that the staff listened to our concerns about the possibility of a direct current power line paralleling a major series of pipelines. The known corrosive effect of direct current on metal infrastructure could have disastrous implications. We are very enthusiastic about our chances of defeating Grain Belt for good and resuming our lives. This is their third attempt and we are hoping that for us the third time is the charm and we will finally be rid of the constant threat they represent to our way of live and communities.”