Work will begin in April on power line with terminus near Palmyra

A once-embattled power project has been given the green light to proceed with construction by the Missouri Public Service Commission, ending years of wrangling to get the project off the ground.

Commissioners approved the Mark Twain Transmission Project, which will run from west of Palmyra on a generally northwest path to Kirksville, Mo., and north to the Iowa border. The commission reached its decision on Wednesday, receiving near unanimous approval. Commissioner Ryan Silvey, who was sworn in days prior, abstained.

The project, owned by Ameren Transmission Company of Illinois (ATXI), will be built on existing right-of-ways in Marion, Lewis, Knox, Adair, and Schuyler Counties.

ATXI expects to invest $250 million in the Mark Twain Transmission Project, which is roughly 100 miles long and has a 345,000-volt capacity. Construction of the project is planned to begin in April 2018 with a targeted in-service date of December 2019.

“Approval of the Mark Twain Transmission Project is a significant step toward strengthening our region’s energy grid and delivering customer benefits,” said Shawn E. Schukar, chairman and president of ATXI. “This project will deliver greater energy reliability, economic growth and improved access to clean energy sources for Missouri and its residents.”

The Commission ruled that the project met the five criteria needed to grant a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity, required for a utility to begin construction in Missouri.

“The Project is needed to integrate wind energy in Missouri and to assist Missouri public utilities in complying with Missouri’s Renewable Energy Standard,” said the Commission in a release late Wednesday. “ATXI is qualified and financially able to build the Project. The Project is economically feasible because Ameren Missouri customers should receive benefits in excess of transmission charges. The Project will likely lead to reductions in Missourians’ ultimate electric rates as compared to rates that would be paid without the Project.”

Wednesday’s decision by the commission ends what was a contentious year for the project.

Originally approved by the Commission, a Missouri Court of Appeals threw out the approval in the spring of 2017, ruling that ATXI needed the assents, or permission to use county roads, from the county commissions in counties along the proposed route. None of the counties along the path, including Marion County, had given assent. The Supreme Court refused to hear ATXI’s appeal, meaning the decision by Court of Appeals vacating the approval stood.

But in early May, ATXI announced its intention to re-route the project along existing right-of-ways used by Northeast Missouri Electric Power Cooperative, headquartered in Palmyra. The change in the route seemed to placate both the county commissions and opposition groups, which had vehemently opposed the project.

By fall, the county commissions of the five counties had agreed to give their assents, green-lighting the project to the Commission.

While the Mark Twain Transmission project is expected to proceed, the Courts of Appeals ruling regarding county assents has profoundly impacted another power case in the region. The Grain Belt Express project, a controversial wind line project proposed through northern Missouri, is mired in Missouri courts as judges must decide if state statute indeed gives power to local governments regarding the fate of multi-county or multi-state power projects.

The fate of the Grain Belt Express is unknown for now, but ATXI leaders are celebrating the victory for the Mark Twain Project.

“We look forward to continuing our work with Northeast Power, landowners, community members, county commissioners and various local and state agencies as this necessary project moves forward,” said Schukar.

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