Kansas regulators extend until March 2019 ‘sunset term’ for Grain Belt Express

The Kansas Corporation Commission, in an Oct. 4 order, extended until March 1, 2019 the “sunset term” to allow Grain Belt Express Clean Line LLC (Grain Belt) to advise the commission of its financial, managerial, and technical ability to complete the Grain Belt Express transmission project.

As noted in the order, Grain Belt Express Clean Line in July 2013 filed an application for a siting permit to build in Kansas about 370 miles of the approximately 750-mile HVDC transmission line that continues to Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana; a converter station in Ford County, Kan.; and facilities to interconnect the converter station with the Southwest Power Pool (SPP).

The commission in November 2013 issued an order finding that the Grain Belt Express line is necessary because “[w]ithout this project, hundreds of millions of economic development dollars would not be spent in Kansas, and the potential for large scale wind farm development would be lost” as well as that “this project will have significant short- and long-term economic development benefits for the state of Kansas.”

The commission added in its Oct. 4 order that in addition to finding a proposed transmission line necessary, before issuing a siting permit, the commission must also determine the reasonableness of the location of the proposed electric transmission line.

After considering landowners’ comments, the commission found that the modified proposed route is reasonable and in the public interest. The commission also said in its Oct. 4 order that granting of a siting permit was conditioned on Grain Belt submitting quarterly reports detailing the progress and costs of the project, and beginning construction of the Grain Belt Express Project within five years from the date of that order. If construction did not start within five years, Grain Belt would be required to submit a new application. Since the order was issued on Nov. 7, 2013, Grain Belt would need to begin construction in Kansas by Nov. 7, 2018, or reapply, the commission added.

Before starting construction in Kansas, the order required Grain Belt to obtain approval from the other states where the Grain Belt Express would be built – namely, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana.

The Illinois courts have issued decisions requiring Grain Belt to acquire property in Illinois before it can submit a new application to the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) for a certificate to build the Illinois portion of the transmission project, the commission added, noting that Grain Belt is working to acquire property in Illinois to enable it to file a new certificate application with the ICC.

The Missouri Public Service Commission (MPSC) in July 2015 denied Grain Belt’s application for a certificate to build the Missouri portion of the line. The commission also noted that Grain Belt appealed the MPSC decision, resulting in a unanimous decision by the Missouri Supreme Court, issued on July 17, finding that the MPSC erred and remanding the matter back to the MPSC to determine whether the Missouri portion of the project is necessary or convenient for the public service. Once the Missouri Supreme Court issues its mandate, Grain Belt will urge the MPSC to promptly issue a certificate to build the Missouri portion of the project, the commission added.

The commission also noted that its staff and Grain Belt on Sept. 6 filed their “joint motion for extension of sunset term,” explaining that the litigation delays in Illinois and Missouri makes it unlikely that Kansas construction would begin by Nov. 7, and requesting that the sunset date be extended to Nov. 7, 2023.

The joint motion is limited to a request to extend the sunset date by five years to allow Grain Belt an opportunity to complete the permitting process and pre-construction activities required prior to beginning construction of the project in Kansas, the commission said.

Noting that the joint motion was served to all of the parties in the docket, including landowners who had intervened to oppose Grain Belt’s application, the commission said that an individual on Sept. 17 filed his protest to the joint motion, arguing that the proposed extension is not in the public interest because:

  • The sunset provision protects landowners from having their lives placed on hold for a project that may never be built
  • The route selection study is five years old and may need to be reconsidered
  • Grain Belt’s financial ability to build the line and its managerial ability to run the line need to be reevaluated
  • Grain Belt may not get approval from Illinois or Missouri

Staff on Sept. 26 filed its response to the individual’s protest, claiming that the protest erroneously interprets the purpose of the five-year sunset provision. According to staff, the purpose of the sunset provision was not to protect landowners, but to prevent the project for stalling at the border. The commission also said that in addressing the individual’s concerns that Grain Belt may no longer have the financial, managerial, and technical ability to complete the project, staff explained that Grain Belt’s quarterly status reports filed in the “14-GBEE-527-CPL Compliance Docket” demonstrate that Grain Belt Express continues to meet certain requirements.

Grain Belt on Sept. 27 filed its response to the individual’s protest, explaining that extending the sunset provision would not alter its obligations to work with all affected landowners to restore any affected land to its pre-construction condition when possible. Grain Belt also advises that personnel changes happen routinely and do not impact the commission’s finding that the project was necessary and convenience, the commission added.

The commission said that it finds the individual’s concerns regarding Grain Belt’s financial, managerial, and technical ability to complete the project compelling based on the individual’s alleging that many of Grain Belt’s employees have left the company and Grain Belt has recently sold its non-transmission assets to ConnectGen LLC.

The commission said that to allow it time to evaluate Grain Belt to submit evidence of its financial, managerial, and technical ability to complete the project, the commission grants an extension of the sunset provision until March 1, 2019.

Therefore, by Nov. 29, the commission directs Grain Belt to submit evidence of its financial, managerial, and technical ability to complete the project.

The individual, as well as another entity that filed a reply to the joint motion, can file pleadings limited to Grain Belt’s financial, managerial, and technical ability to complete the project by Dec. 21, the commission added.

The commission said that staff is to file a report and recommendation by Feb. 6, 2019, evaluating Grain Belt’s financial, managerial, and technical ability to complete the project. The commission also said that upon review of staff’s report and recommendation, it will determine whether a hearing is necessary.

Clean Line Energy Partners’ Hans Detweiler on Oct. 4 told TransmissionHub: We believe the Kansas Corporation Commission’s extension of the sunset provision to March 1, 2019, is reasonable, and appreciate their request for additional information. We are pleased with the commission’s decision that only the managerial, technical, and financial issues in the case will be considered moving forward.”

Detweiler continued: “The Grain Belt Express Clean Line is a proposed electric transmission line project to deliver energy from Kansas to markets in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and further east. The almost $3 billion project would create thousands of construction jobs for several years leading to the project’s anticipated completion in 2023.”

About Corina Rivera-Linares 3059 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares, chief editor for TransmissionHub, has covered the U.S. power industry for the past 15 years. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines. She can be reached at clinares@endeavorb2b.com.