Missouri regulators approve, subject to conditions, Grain Belt project

The Missouri Public Service Commission on March 20 said that it voted 5-0 to approve Grain Belt Express Clean Line LLC’s request for a certificate of convenience and necessity (CCN) to build, own, operate, control, manage, and maintain a high-voltage, direct current transmission line and associated facilities within eight Missouri counties.

Those counties are Buchanan, Clinton, Caldwell, Carroll, Chariton, Randolph, Monroe, and Ralls, the commission said, adding that the project would traverse Missouri for about 206 miles, as well as Kansas, Illinois, and Indiana.

As noted in the commission’s order, the overhead, multi-terminal +600-kV line is about 780 miles long and would deliver 500 MW of wind-generated electricity from western Kansas to customers in Missouri, as well as another 3,500 MW to states further east. The project would have three converter stations, including one in western Kansas, where wind generating facilities would connect to the project via alternating current (AC) lines. The commission added that the two other converter stations in eastern Missouri and eastern Illinois would deliver electricity to the AC grid through interconnections with transmission owners in the systems of the Midcontinent ISO (MISO) and PJM Interconnection.

Grain Belt proposes to build the Missouri converter station and associated AC interconnecting facilities in Ralls County, the commission said, noting that the station will be located near Union Electric Company d/b/a Ameren Missouri’s Montgomery-Maywood 345-kV transmission line. The Missouri station will have bi-directional functionality, allowing Missouri utilities an additional means to earn revenue from off-system sales of up to 500 MW of excess power into the PJM energy markets, the commission said.

In its statement, the commission noted that it determined that there is a need for the service; Grain Belt is qualified to provide the proposed service; Grain Belt has the financial ability to provide the proposed service; Grain Belt’s proposal is economically feasible; and the service promotes the public interest.

The commission also noted that the evidence in the case demonstrated that the project will create short-term and long-term benefits to Missouri ratepayers and citizens. The project would also have a substantial and favorable effect on the reliability of electric service in Missouri, according to the commission.

“There can be no debate that our energy future will require more diversity in energy resources, particularly renewable resources,” the commission said in its order. “We are witnessing a worldwide, long-term and comprehensive movement towards renewable energy in general and wind energy specifically. Wind energy provides great promise as a source for affordable, reliable, safe, and environmentally-friendly energy. The Grain Belt Project will facilitate this movement in Missouri, will thereby benefit Missouri citizens, and is, therefore, in the public interest.”

In its statement, the commission noted that any negative impacts of the project on the land and landowners will be mitigated by:

  • A landowner protocol to protect landowners
  • Superior compensation payments
  • A binding arbitration option for easement negotiations
  • A decommissioning fund
  • An agricultural impact mitigation protocol to avoid or minimize negative agricultural impacts

Agricultural impacts will also be reduced because no more than nine acres of land in Missouri will be taken out of agricultural production as a result of project structures, and the proposed route does not directly impact the operation of any existing center pivot irrigation systems, the commission said.

As noted in the order, Grain Belt filed its application for a CCN in August 2016, and in August 2017, the commission issued an order denying the application based on a decision by the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District (“ATXI”) because Grain Belt had not obtained the necessary county assents. However, four commissioners also signed a concurring opinion stating that they would have granted Grain Belt’s application had it not been for the Western District’s ATXI decision, which the commission found compelled denial of the application based on lack of statutory authority.

The commission also said that on appeal, the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District determined that the commission erred in finding that it could not lawfully grant a line CCN to Grain Belt, but transferred the case to the Supreme Court of Missouri, which concluded that the commission had erred in finding that it could not lawfully grant a CCN to Grain Belt, abrogating that portion of the ATXI opinion regarding county assents, and remanded the case back to the commission to determine whether Grain Belt’s proposed project is necessary or convenient for the public service.

Among other things, the commission said that the project is a participant-funded, “shipper pays” transmission line, and that Grain Belt would recover its capital costs by entering into voluntary, market-driven contracts with entities that want to become transmission customers of the project.

The commission also noted that Grain Belt in November 2018 entered into a membership interest purchase agreement with Invenergy LLC affiliate Invenergy Transmission LLC, which will purchase Grain Belt. Also in November 2018, Grain Belt and Invenergy entered into a development management agreement for Invenergy to provide development funding for the project through the projected closing date of the purchase agreement. At the end of the project’s development phase, Invenergy will use project funding to build the project, the commission added.

Invenergy is spending money now on project development, and expects to spend up to $2m over the next nine months on regulatory matters. The commission also said that Invenergy projects that it will spend about $50m to $100m on project development before it can obtain funding from institutional investors.

The project’s total cost will be about $2.35bn, with the portion to be located in Missouri projected to cost $525m. Those amounts do not include the $550m cost of network upgrades required to interconnect the project to the electric transmission grid, of which $21m is estimated for upgrade costs in Missouri, the commission added.

Discussing conditions, the commission said, for instance, that Grain Belt and regulatory staff agreed that if Grain Belt acquires any involuntary easements in Missouri by means of eminent domain and does not obtain the necessary financial commitments within five years of the date such easement rights are recorded, Grain Belt agrees to return possession of the easement to the landowner within 60 days and record the dissolution of the easement without requiring any reimbursement of payments by the landowner.

About Corina Rivera-Linares 2807 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares, chief editor for TransmissionHub, has covered the U.S. power industry for the past 13 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 corinar@pennwell.com.