A decision regarding a controversial power project scheduled to traverse Monroe and Ralls Counties has now presumably become indefinitely delayed due to an appeal on an unrelated case.
The Missouri Public Service Commission all but said at its May 24 meeting that a decision on the Grain Belt Express case would likely not come until the resolution of the Mark Twain Transmission project.
Grain Belt Express is a proposed wind energy line that would convert wind from Kansas to usable energy further east.
The unrelated power projects have now become intertwined as courts determine the fate of one — and as result, likely the other.
"The reality is there’s a case pending before the (Mo. )Supreme Court concerning the ATXI transmission case," PSC Chairman Daniel Hall said regarding the Mark Twain project. "We are monitoring that appeal. That decision may have an effect — it may not — on this case. So I think it’s important for the public to know we are monitoring the appeal. We are contemplating whether it impacts this case."
Hall inferred that a decision on Grain Belt likely won’t come until a resolution in the ATXI case.
"There’s really no need to set a specific schedule on this case," Hall said.
Earlier this year, a Missouri Court of Appeals vacated the PSC’s decision to grant necessary permits to construct the Mark Twain Transmission project, a electric transmission line running roughly from western Marion County northeast to Kirksville.
The Court of Appeals interpreted state law to mean that the company must first receive assent — or permission to use county roads to construct the project — from the impacted counties. All five county commissions denied assent. However, the PSC approved the project on the condition that the Ameren Transmission Company of Illinois (ATXI) go back and get permission.
It’s this point of contention that has thrown that case, and thus Grain Belt, into quagmire.
ATXI has appealed the Court of Appeals to the state’s Supreme Court, which if heard, could iron out the issue of assent.
Assent and Grain Belt
The issue of assent could be detrimental to the Grain Belt Express. County commissions across Northern Missouri have vehemently opposed the wind energy project. The project would utilize a converter station near Center to convert wind energy into a usable format on the electric grid.
Should the Supreme Court hear the case and decide state statute requires county assent before the PSC grants necessary permits, it could spell doom for Grain Belt.
Ralls County, in particular, has stood firm against the project, with Presiding Commissioner Wiley Hibbard a leading voice in opposition to the project.
A delay on a Grain Belt decision
Reaction to the PSC’s apparent hesitation to make a decision on Grain Belt was swift.
The Missouri Joint Municipal Electric Utility Commission, which represents dozens of cities who plan to receive energy from Grain Belt if the transmission line goes live, urged the PSC to move forward.
"Such delay could operate as a de facto denial of the Application of Grain Belt Express Clean Line LLC ("Grain Belt") and, in turn, materially prejudice MJMEUC’s members," read a response statement. "Any undue delay in the Commission’s decision could impede development of the Project, which could result in a constructive denial of hundreds of millions of dollars in savings to MJMEUC customers across Missouri."
Attorneys for Grain Belt and its parent company Clean Line Energy sought to draw distinctions between the ATXI case and the Grain Belt case and urged the PSC to hold firm to an April order denying a motion to dismiss or hold in abeyance the Grain Belt case.
Show Me Concerned Landowners, an organization formed to oppose Grain Belt, filed a response to MJMEUC, Grain Belt, and two other filings urging the PSC to move forward.
In its response, Show Me rebuts their response as a whole, saying the responses "feign urgency" and attempt to brief the PSC on issues when not appropriate.
Show Me shared its own opinion on what the PSC should do if it doesn’t wait for further court clarification on the ATXI case: "If the Commission desires to rule on this case now, it must reject the Application. State statute and the Commission’s rules specify that result. The law is clear."
The Supreme Court has yet to decide if it will hear the ATXI case. Should it hear the case, it wouldn’t go before the court for several more months, with a decision coming several additional months after that.
In the meantime, ATXI has reworked its plan for the Mark Twain Transmission Project to use existing right of ways in conjunction with Northeast Missouri Electric Power Cooperative.
At the close of discussions regarding Grain Belt at the May 24 meeting, PSC commissioner William Kenney shared this thought on the case: "Obviously, I’m sure a lot of parties want to see this decided."
Reach editor Eric Dundon at firstname.lastname@example.org .