Appeals court approves controversial Grain Belt power line

A Missouri appeals court has approved a controversial wind power transmission line that will cross northern parts of the state to deliver energy from the Midwest to a power grid for eastern states

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A Missouri appeals court on Tuesday gave approval to the state's portion of a controversial wind power transmission line that would provide energy from the Midwest to a power grid for eastern states.

The Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District ruled against landowners and the Missouri Farm Bureau, who claimed the Public Service Commission erred in March when it approved construction of the Grain Belt Express Transmission line, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The $2.3 billion high voltage line would be one of the nation's largest wind energy projects, carrying electricity generated by Kansas windmills 780 miles (1,255 kilometers) across rural Missouri and Illinois before hooking into a power grid in Indiana serving eastern states.

Missouri landowners in the project's path, along with the farm bureau, argued before the appeals court that the commission misinterpreted evidence and state utility regulations in March when it reversed earlier findings and approved a “certificate of convenience and necessity,” declaring the project in the public interest. The certificate also gives developers the right to use eminent domain to construct the line.

The opponents, called the Missouri Landowners Alliance, didn't meet their obligation to show evidence that the commission's order “was not based on competent and substantial evidence on the whole record,” Appellate Judge Mary Hoff wrote.

The project is expected to cross the property of 570 Missouri landowners across more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) and eight northern counties.

The commission initially rejected the proposal in 2015, but the owners reapplied after persuading nearly 40 municipal utilities in Missouri to buy power generated by the project, which could save an estimated $12.8 million each year for 20 years.

In July 2018, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that state regulators had wrongly rejected the project.

In June, the commission unanimously approved Chicago-based Invenergy’s acquisition of the transmission line from Clean Line Energy Partners. Invenergy contends its structures will take up less than 10 acres (4 hectares) of land in Missouri, not including land underneath transmission wires.

Lawmakers in the Missouri House approved legislation in April that forbids the project owners from using eminent domain for the line, but the proposal died in the state Senate after senators filibustered the bill.