Public Service Commission maintains it was correct in denying permits to wind energy company

The company behind a controversial wind energy project slated to go through Monroe and Ralls Counties will have its day in court this week — and possibly have its final chance to get necessary permits to develop the project in Missouri.

Grain Belt Express will outline its case against the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) on Thursday, Feb. 8 in St. Louis before a Missouri Court of Appeals. The PSC denied Grain Belt a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity in 2017 after the prospective utility failed to prove it had gained assent — or approval to use county roads — from the county commissions along the proposed route. The PSC's decision hinged on a Court of Appeals ruling in another case that has since required utilities to gain assent from counties before the PSC can issue its approval.

Getting assent from the counties along the path has proven to be a tall order for developers of the multi-state utility that would bring wind energy from the plains of western Kansas through north Missouri to states further east. Wind energy would enter Missouri's electric grid through a converter station near the Ralls County town of Center.

At issue in the case is the application of the Court's decision in the other unrelated but similar electric case. PSC commissioners, it's important to note, indicated in their denial of the project that they would have approved the project but for the decision by Court of Appeals in the other case.

Grain Belt attorneys filed its arguments in November. They say allowing county commissions to determine whether or not a public utility can move forward isn't what state statutes intended, but what the Court of Appeals erroneously ruled.

"This provision does not purport to give counties the authority to stand in the shoes of the PSC in determining whether a proposed utility project is in the public interest of the state or whether a utility should be granted a CCN," briefs say.

They also argue a different statute applies to the former electric case compared to Grain Belt's.

The PSC's attorneys, which filed briefs in the case in late December, argued that the denial should stand.

“In this case, the application for a certificate of convenience and necessity filed by

Grain Belt did not allege that it had obtained the assent of the eight county commissions that would be affected by the proposed line,” according to briefs filed on behalf of the commission. “The record instead reflects the fact that Grain Belt was aware of the necessity to obtain county assents from the eight counties affected by the proposed transmission line. Grain Belt’s application states that the company would obtain all necessary federal, state, and local permits before beginning construction.”

The commission says it is bound to follow the ruling of the Court of Appeals.

Former Missouri governor Jay Nixon is leading the team representing Grain Belt.

The outcome of the Eastern District case will likely wholly impact whether Grain Belt Express lives or dies. Missouri is the lone state yet to approve the project. Similar regulatory authorities in Kansas, Illinois, and Indiana have already approved the project.

Stakeholders have carefully watched this case for many years. Many say they oppose the project because it isn't needed, could affect property values and farming practices. Some are worried about the possible use of eminent domain.

Proponents of the project say it will provide cheaper electricity to dozens of Missouri cities, including Hannibal.

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