Despite a path in Ralls County, locals hearing will be held in Hannibal on Dec. 7

Residents concerned about or interested in a controversial wind energy project will have yet another chance to attend a public hearing on the topic.

The parent company of the Grain Belt Express has, for a third time, filed an application for a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity (CCN) to construct an electric transmission line carrying wind energy from the plains of Kansas across northern Missouri and further east.

The proposed project has drawn sharp criticism across Missouri, including in Ralls County, which is along the planned path. Two public hearings will take place locally on Dec. 7 — one in Monroe City and another in Hannibal. The hearings are an opportunity for members of the public to voice support or concern for the project.

The Monroe City hearing will take place at noon, Dec. 7, at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 424 South Locust.

In Hannibal, the hearing will take place in the Roland Fine Arts Building Theater at Hannibal-LaGrange University at 6 p.m., Dec. 7.

Formal evidentiary hearings in the case are scheduled for March 20-24, 2017, in Room 310 of the Governor Office Building, 200 Madison Street, Jefferson City, Mo.

Opponents of the project emphasized the importance of a strong showing by locals at the hearings.

“It is extremely important that we have an even better showing in front of our PSC this time,” said Russ Pisciotta, President of Block Grain Belt Express. “Clean Line (the parent company behind Grain Belt Express) has stepped up their game and will likely show up at these hearings with even more advocates.”

This is the third time Clean Line has applied for the CCN in the past few years.

The Missouri Public Service Commission denied the project its necessary permissions in July 2015, citing a lack of proof that the project was needed and beneficial to Missouri.

The PSC again denied the project earlier this year on a technicality with the filing process. Clean Line filed its third application in June.

The company argues the project will deliver low-cost energy to tens of thousands of Missourians, while creating jobs. Landowners along the path, however, fear their property rights will be trampled on. They are also concerned about potential health effects.

Ralls County may contain the most critical part of the project in Missouri, where a converter station is planned west of the town of Center. The converter station would convert electricity to a usable form for homes and businesses in the area.

Even though Ralls County is ground zero for the project, no hearings are scheduled in Center or New London, closest to residents most impacted by the project.

“I don’t know why that was done,” said Ralls County Presiding Commissioner Wiley Hibbard. “That’s their decision and we’ll abide it.”

Hibbard requested the public hearing be held at Mark Twain High School in Center, so residents affected wouldn’t have to drive as far.

A similar request was made by residents of Monroe County, who sought to have a hearing in Paris instead of Monroe City.

Hibbard said the county commission’s stance on the project has not changed.

“We’re adamantly opposed to it. I don’t know what more we can say. It’s not needed,” he said.

Organized opponents are asking for a strong showing at the hearings.

“We really cannot over-emphasize how crucial these public hearings are to preventing the precedent of an out-of-state company receiving the state’s power of eminent domain to take private property for its speculative, for-profit venture,” said Jennifer Gatrel, spokeswoman for Block GBE. “

Since the PSC’s 2015 decision, Grain Belt has been striving to line up potential customers in Missouri. Earlier this year the Missouri Joint Municipal Electric Utility Commission (MJMEUC), which represents municipal utilities that pool their resources to buy power, announced that 35 of its member communities had agreed to purchase up to 200 MW (megawatts) of electricity, if the project is built. Individuals power utilities have also expressed a willingness to purchase electricity from the project. Grain Belt officials estimate that the overhead power line would deliver enough wind energy from western Kansas to power approximately 200,000 Missouri homes each year.

Reach editor Eric Dundon at eric.dundon@courierpost.com .