Missouri Public Service Commissioners will soon begin round two of formal hearings to consider a renewed effort to get approval of the Grain Belt Express Clean Line LLC (Grain Belt Express), a power line project that would cross through the heart of Monroe and Ralls Counties.

Missouri Public Service Commissioners will soon begin round two of formal hearings to consider a renewed effort to get approval of the Grain Belt Express Clean Line LLC (Grain Belt Express), a power line project that would cross through the heart of Monroe and Ralls Counties.

This is the second attempt by the Clean Energy Line Partners LLC to get approval for the Grain Belt Express, which it owns. The company is again asking the commission to award the project a certificate of convenience and necessity to construct, own, operate and maintain a high-voltage, direct-current transmission lines and associated facilities within Buchanan, Clinton, Caldwell, Carroll, Chariton, Randolph, Monroe and Ralls counties as well as an associated converter station near the Ralls County town of Center.

The Public Service Commission rejected a similar request in July 2015 by a 3-2 vote.

Clean Energy Line Partners came back in August 2016 with a slightly altered version of what the commission rejected last year.

As the hearings are set to begin, it is against the backdrop of a recommendation from Missouri Public Service Commission staff that the proposal again be rejected. After a review, the commission staff concluded that Clean Energy has not presented a case justifying the certificate of convenience and need. However, the commission is not required follow staff recommendations, as evidenced in the 2015 3-2 vote.

Grain Belt Express has been mired in controversy since it was first proposed in Missouri. Clean Line Energy Partners seeks to move electricity generated from vast wind farms in western Kansas, where on a good day in the summer winds can exceed 35 to 45 mph. The company wants to build transmission lines across Kansas, Missouri and Illinois, ending in Indiana. Several large cities are supporting the project. The project is estimated to be worth $2.2 billion.

Clean Line has won approval from regulators in Kansas and in Indiana, the terminal point for the transmission lines. The case is unusual in that a private company seeking to be approved as a utility in Missouri.

The company says that in addition to providing alternative energy not produced from fossil fuels, that the Grain Belt Express will create significant economic impact for Missouri — $6 million alone in the first year for Monroe County, and lower energy bills for Missouri residents.

The battle lines for the case are clear: On the one side is Clean Energy Partners, promising wind-produced energy that will reduce costs for utilities consumers in the nation’s industrial belt. The company has enlisted the support of environmental groups, that are opposed to fossil fuels and nuclear; private contractors and unions, who see years of jobs to build the transmission project; some small municipal utilities, which are contracting to purchase a small fraction of the power that will flow through the lines; and by some county officials, who applaud the increased property taxes the utility would generate.

For opponents, the attempt to gain approval of the project from the Public Service Commission is a land grab by a private company that will hurt landowners and create unsightly transmission poles that can range up to 200 feet tall, and cut a 200-foot wide swath through rural Missouri. One of the group’s organized against the project is the Show Me Concerned Landowners, a group of farmers that has been fighting Grain Belt since the project first surfaced.

And it is turning into a classic rural vs. urban battle.

After the commission rejected the first Grain Belt filing in 2015, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a blistering editorial about the decision and the opposition of rural groups.

“Missouri is the lone holdout on helping provide the nation with a future of clean, renewable energy and lesser dependence on dirty coal-fired power plants. Missouri farmers have crowed over their victory in getting the line blocked. In efforts to persuade the state’s Public Service Commission to vote against it, farmers offered familiar arguments about not wanting the line to cross their property and about creating problems when they plant and harvest crops,” wrote the newspaper’s editorial board.

The Show Me group counters that its opposition is about landowners’ rights and the future of agriculture in the impacted counties.

“Show Me’s members are concerned about the damage to the some of the most productive farms and ranches in the country and interference with their operation, health, property values, visual pollution, and future limitations on land use. While Grain Belt Express has been very busy courting political officials, the evidence shows that landowners were on the very bottom of Grain Belt Express’s list in terms of importance. Show Me believes that Grain Belt Express’s lack of respect and concern for landowner issues would continue if Grain Belt Express were to receive a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity (CCN) from this Commission,” said the group in a recent filing with the Public Service Commission.

Grain Belt Express, however, says the project is a win-win for consumers who need access to alternative energy and to cash-strapped rural Missouri counties and school districts.

“The Grain Belt Express project is expected to contribute more than $39 million to community services and landowners across northern Missouri, in the first year of operation alone. Tax payments are based on the number of miles of the powerline in the county, and the taxing rates of the various taxing districts,” wrote Mark Lawlor, director of development for Grain Belt Express Clean Line, in a letter about the project late last year.

Winning Public Service Commission approval does not guarantee that the project will be built. If the commission awards the certificate of need, the project must gain approval for eminent domain in Monroe and other counties, as the commission order would not address and acquisition.

The formal hearings in the case are scheduled for March 20-24, in Room 310 of the Governor’s Office Building, 200 Madison St., Jefferson City.