Grain Belt Express promises stronger electric grid -- if Missouri lawmakers don't kill it

Kevin Hardy and Jeanne Kuang, The Kansas City Star on

Published in Business News

Developers of the Grain Belt Express say the massive transmission line remains on track to open up by 2025, connecting wind power in western Kansas with voracious demand in the East.

The 800-mile project promises to add more reliability to the electric grid — all the more enticing since rolling blackouts in February left millions of Americans without power. While the $2 billion overhead transmission line aims at exporting wind energy from Kansas, it will also be capable of moving electricity both directions, which could have helped mitigate the electricity crisis that hit the United States earlier this year.

"Lines like Grain Belt Express could have been the savior," said Jay Caspary, a transmission expert who worked at the Southwest Power Pool for nearly 20 years. "The value of transmission becomes really apparent when you don't have it. Because you're stuck with local resources."

But for all its purported benefits, the project remains hotly contested in Missouri, where lawmakers are considering a bill that could make it nearly impossible to build. The House of Representatives in February overwhelmingly approved HB 527, which would ban the use of eminent domain for above-ground utility projects like the Grain Belt Express.

In Missouri, the Grain Belt Express would span 200 miles across eight counties. But many of the more than 500 landowners along the route have been opposing the project for years, saying its a land grab from a private company that will offer little public value.

The measure is expected to be taken up by a state Senate committee in the coming weeks.


In an opinion column last week, Sen. Bill White, a Joplin Republican, blasted the legislation for retroactively taking aim at the already-approved Grain Belt Express, which he said would invite litigation.

"Over the next several weeks senators from both parties are going to have to decide whether they want to help generate millions in economic activity and lower energy costs," wrote White, the assistant majority floor leader. "As a conservative, pro-job growth policymaker, the only prudent path forward is to defeat House Bill 527 and let this privately funded project continue to invest millions in our rural areas, strengthen our local energy supply, and help assure our energy independence."

The legislation is the latest legislative effort to block the controversial line, which opponents say is a violation of individual property rights. Some farmers also say they've received easement purchase offers well below their land's value that don't consider the impacts of the transmission line on their homes and businesses.

Alongside the Grain Belt bill, lawmakers have advanced another measure that environmentalists call an attack on clean energy. The proposal would prohibit local governments from blocking any energy sources, a reaction to ordinances passed in cities such as Berkeley, California, that ban natural gas hookups in new construction.


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