Business

Missouri Supreme Court prepares to hear Grain Belt case

Missouri Supreme Court Building in Jefferson City.
COURIER-POST FILE
Posted: Mar. 28, 2018 3:56 pm

Tuesday, April 3, will be a big day for people in Northeast Missouri. That's the day when the Missouri Supreme Court will hear the case of a wind energy company that is seeking to build a transmission line across north Missouri — and through Monroe and Ralls Counties.


The project has stirred resentment in some part of NEMO, with residents concerned about property rights and other concerns, while others look forward to the possibility of cheaper and cleaner power.


Oral arguments in Grain Belt Express Clean Line v. Missouri Public Service Commission will set in motion what could be the final chapter of a years-long effort for the Texas-based Clean Line Energy to construct and operate a wind power line in four Midwest states from Kansas to Indiana.


Several issues will be discussed by attorneys representing parties both supporting and opposing the project, but the heart of the case revolves around if a Missouri Court of Appeals properly decided the fate of another similar, but unrelated case. The Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) used the outcome of that case to deny necessary permits for Grain Belt Express.


Supreme Court judges will address issues like statute interpretation and local control over multi-state power projects.


The court's decision will likely decide if Grain Belt Express will be built in Missouri.


 


History


Grain Belt developers have tried for years to get necessary permits to build in Missouri.


The first time developers applied for necessary permits, the PSC rejected the application because they said the prospective utility failed to prove why it was needed and beneficial in Missouri. In 2016, the project was rejected a second time due to a procedural error.


Commissioners again dismissed the application in 2017 following the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals' ruling in a case involving the Ameren Transmission Company of Illinois.


Essentially, the court ruled the PSC could not grant permission for Ameren to build a project without first receiving consent from the commissions in the counties impacted by the project.


At the time, Ameren did not have consent.


Likewise, Grain Belt does not have consent from the county's in its proposed path, including Ralls and Monroe.


Using the court's determination in the Ameren case, the PSC denied Grain Belt's application.


Although the PSC denied Grain Belt's application, four of the five commissioners said they would have approved the project; they felt the project was both needed and beneficial in the Show-Me State.


Grain Belt and its attorneys appealed the rejection to the Eastern District Court of Appeals.


There, judges determined the Western District Court of Appeals ruled in error, throwing the decision of the PSC — which based its decision on the Western court's ruling — into question. Using a rule enshrined in the Missouri courts system, the Court of Appeals sent the case directly to the Missouri Supreme Court because of the level of interest in the case.


 


Arguments


Attorneys are not expected to argue whether the Grain Belt is necessary or beneficial in Missouri, as they did when the project first came before the PSC. Instead, arguments will largely center on the application of the Ameren case.


"ATXI is a separate case, involving separate parties, which analyzed a different statutory section," attorneys for Grain Belt said in documents filed with the Supreme Court.


The main arguments in favor of the utility include that applying the Ameren case to Grain Belt is inaccurate because the two companies applied for utility status using different statutes. An "area" permit, for which Ameren applied, deals also with the wholesale of power, while a "line" permit — which Grain Belt seeks — deals only with the transmission of power.


Additionally, attorneys argue that the Ameren decision improperly interpreted state statute forcing all future projects to first get consent from the counties involved.


"Expanding the ATXI decision to this case and making it the law of the state would upset decades of precedent, frustrate the statutory scheme and clear legislative intent," of state statute.


The PSC, as it argued when Grain Belt appealed to the Eastern District Court of Appeals, said it had the authority to reject Grain Belt's application based upon the Ameren case. Attorneys for the state utility regulatory commission are expected to state why the PSC is bound to the ruling of the Western District Court of Appeals.


Additional arguments from the Missouri Landowners Alliance, a group opposed to the Grain Belt claim the PSC illegally allowed evidence from Grain Belt during the application phase.


 


The future


It remains unclear what the future for the project would be if the Supreme Court would run in favor of the PSC. Earlier this month, an Illinois court reversed a decision by that state's utility regulatory body, saying the project failed to prove it was a utility by failing to own, operate, or manage land or other infrastructure necessary to build the portion of the project in Illinois.


Oral arguments will take place at the Missouri Supreme Court building in Jefferson on Tuesday. A decision will likely take several weeks.


 


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

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