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Grain Belt Debate: Clean Energy, Job Creation vs. Property Rights

Developer Invenergy plans to provide $20 million in landowner payments in Missouri for the rights to build its Grain Belt Express transmission line. (Adobe Stock)
Developer Invenergy plans to provide $20 million in landowner payments in Missouri for the rights to build its Grain Belt Express transmission line. (Adobe Stock)
February 26, 2020

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- While progress sometimes comes with a price, supporters of the Grain Belt Express say the potential benefits for Missouri far outweigh the costs.

The transmission line would carry 4,000 megawatts of wind power daily from Kansas to Missouri, but it's been delayed for years by legal challenges and legislative efforts to prevent the use of eminent domain. Opponents of the line see it as a land grab, which Ewell Lawson, vice president for governmente affairs at the Missouri Public Utility Alliance, disputes.

"They want access to the land to allow for a transmission line to go overhead to provide power," he said, "so this does not take agricultural land out of production, and it does not displace farm buildings."

Thirty-nine Missouri communities -- including Columbia, Farmington, Hannibal and Rolla -- have signed on to get wind power from the line, which Lawson noted would be much cheaper and cleaner than electricity generated by burning coal. A Missouri Senate Committee is considering Senate Bill 597, a bill passed by the House that would essentially block the project.

The developer of the line said it worked extensively with landowners, public agencies and stakeholders to develop the route and minimize the impact. It would provide $20 million in landowner payments in Missouri.

David Heidbreder, business manager for Local 2 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in St. Louis, said electrical workers also anticipate the thousands of jobs the project would create.

"It's green energy, so it's going to have to have converter stations, so there's going to be some maintenance jobs, they would be long-term," he said. "But the construction of it, especially going all the way across the state of Missouri, it's going to take a bit and it's going to put a lot of people to work."

Once operational, the line would generate about $7 million annually in new tax revenue for eight Missouri counties, which Heidbreder noted would help support schools and public services. He added that rural communities also would benefit from the broadband internet access to be incorporated into the transmission line.

The text of SB 597 is online at senate.mo.gov.

Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - MO