The controversial Grain Belt Express project — a wind energy transmission line proposed to run from Kansas through northern Missouri to the east — sustained another blow when the Missouri Public Service Commission staff again advised the commission to deny an application for necessary permits.

The controversial Grain Belt Express project — a wind energy transmission line proposed to run from Kansas through northern Missouri to the east — sustained another blow when the Missouri Public Service Commission staff again advised the commission to deny an application for necessary permits.

The staff’s opinion, dated July 6, comes ahead of crucial oral arguments in the case scheduled for Aug. 3 in Jefferson City.

This is the third time project developers have attempted to gain a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity to construct the Grain Belt Express, each time met with fierce resistance from local governments and property owners along the proposed path, which includes Monroe and Ralls Counties.

The case has seen a significantly wrinkle since the Missouri Supreme Court let a Court of Appeals decision reversing the PSC’s decision in another unrelated electric line case stand.

The Mark Twain Transmission case has drastically changed the tenor of the discussion around Grain Belt Express and could ultimately prove the project’s undoing.

The PSC staff — which advises the commission, but has no authority to approve projects — said the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear Ameren Transmission Company of Illinois’ appeal all but dictates the fate the Grain Belt.

At issue is whether or not utilities need to attain assent — or permission to use public county roads — prior to PSC approval of a project. The Court of Appeals said in its opinion that Ameren needed assent before the PSC approved the Mark Twain Transmission project.

Similarly, PSC staff says there is now precedent for Grain Belt to receive assent before the PSC approves its permit application. Counties across northern Missouri have not given Grain Belt assent. PSC staff cites in its opinion the denial of assent from the Caldwell County Commission in northwestern Missouri.

Because of assent denial in Caldwell County, PSC staff says “this Commission cannot lawfully grant Grain Belt the CCN it requests for the Grain Belt transmission line project.”

PSC staff argue that the existing facts in the Mark Twain Transmission case and Grain Belt case are essentially the same.

Attorneys for Grain Belt Express and its owners, Clean Line Energy, have parsed through the language of the Courts of Appeals decision and note that the statute analyzed applies to an “area” CCN. Grain Belt applied for a “line” CCN, which is dealt with in another part of the same statute. Grain Belt attorneys say legal precedent exists to differentiate between the different parts of the statute — the part utilized in the Mark Twain case and the part utilized in the Grain Belt case. They say while the cases may seem similar, “area” CCNs and “line” CCNs are distinct and should be treated as such. The Mark Twain case, they say, should have no bearing on the Grain Belt case.

“A misconstruction of Neighbors United (case)” — referring to the landowner group that rose to stop the Mark Twain Transmission Project — “as advocated by MLA and Show Me, as well as Staff, could have far-reaching and potentially grave consequences,” a brief filed this week reads.

Grain Belt laments that the Mark Twain decision may give greater power at the local level, instead of at the state level.

Should the PSC apply the Mark Twain decision to the Grain Belt case wholesale, “It would install county commissions as gatekeepers to the doors of the Commission, and stifle the development of future projects and infrastructure in Missouri,” Grain Belt says.

The PSC staff, in comparison, gave more power to the local level, saying the county commissions have the final say on assent, and therefore, the future of the project.

PSC staff advocated for dismissing the Grain Belt application, per the previous request of the Missouri Landowner Alliance — a grassroots group of property owners opposed to the Grain Belt Express.

The application of the Mark Twain decision on the Grain Belt case marks a stark contrast to previous arguments for or against Grain Belt. In the years that Grain Belt has attempted to get a CCN from the PSC, most of the discussion has centered around if the Grain Belt was necessary or beneficial to Missouri.

In January, the PSC staff authored a decision against Grain Belt, citing various reasons why Grain Belt isn’t necessary in the Show-Me State. Grain Belt countered by listing a litany of potential benefits to the communities near the proposed line, including construction jobs and tax money to local entities like school districts.

Indeed, the necessity of Grain Belt Express was fractious even to the PSC itself, which denied the project 3-2 in July 2015. The two dissenting commissioners expressed the project was both necessary and beneficial to the state.

The effect of the Mark Twain case took center stage when the PSC said it would delay rendering a decision on Grain Belt until the Supreme Court issued a decision (or let the Court of Appeals decision stand) on the Mark Twain case.

With the Supreme Court allowing the Court of Appeals decision to stand, time will tell if it will also cement the future of the Grain Belt Express.

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