by Don Corrigan (WKT)
Kirkwood’s quest to obtain greener and cheaper electricity looked brighter after judges and state regulators gave the Grain Belt Express power line the okay. Now, state legislators are trying to turn lights out on the power line.
“The legislature is trying to stop this transmission line with bills that are now getting fast-tracked in the statehouse,” said Mark Petty, director of Kirkwood Electric Department. “We urge our residents to contact legislators and express their concern over this.”
Kirkwood is part of a coalition of city utilities, which includes Hannibal and Columbia, that have agreed to buy 500 megawatts of the cheaper power. That agreement persuaded utility regulators in the state that the transmission project bringing Kansas wind energy into Missouri and Illinois is in the public interest.
Legislators want to block the project at the behest of farmers and rural landowners who object to eminent domain being used for the project. The line would stretch 200 miles through counties in northern Missouri.
“This is not going to be that disruptive for landowners,” said Petty. “I am afraid there are lawmakers in these counties, who see an election coming up, and they don’t want to upset contributors and some of their constituents.”
In Kirkwood, a community of nearly 28,000 residents, energy supply from the project would mean an approximate $1 million in projected annual savings for the community and its utility customers. Statewide, its impact is $12.8 million annually in favor of electric consumers.
“This project lowers electric costs for 39 communities and over 350,000 Missourians statewide,” said Ewell Lawson, spokesperson for the Missouri Public Utility Alliance. “Projects like this are just the kind of development needed to spur economic activity and job creation in Kirkwood and rural towns across Missouri – all without state subsidy.”
In March 2019, the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) voted to approve the Grain Belt Express project. The decision cleared the path for the transmission line to bring clean energy into Missouri.
The PSC decision, welcomed by communities across the state, advanced a process that began in 2016, when a state municipal utility commission, which includes Kirkwood Electric, okayed a plan to lower electric supply costs and increase the wholesale power agency’s renewable supply.
“The Grain Belt Express is a public utility that has followed all the legally required steps the state imposes on any other utility provider when proceeding with such a significant project,” said Lawson. “I’d hate for our communities, and their customers, to lose such an opportunity with substantial savings.”
He added that the Grain Belt Express will create thousands of jobs in the state. He said the power line structures will take up less than 10 acres of land, but the Missouri Landowners Alliance argues that private land in northern Missouri should not be condemned and taken for a private project.
“That’s just wrong,” said Petty. “Many public utilities will tap into this transmission line. To make that kind of assertion shows a misunderstanding of how a modern electric grid works now.”
Kirkwood’s Petty said the bills filed to frustrate the project could be out of the Missouri House and in the Senate by the last week of January, and that is why residents who are concerned about green energy and cheaper energy need to contact lawmakers asap.
“We are pleased the environmental community has stepped up and testified before the legislature in the past for this project,” said Petty. “They do not get all emotional. They don’t even have to talk about climate change issues.
“This is about cheaper, renewable energy and public health,” said Petty. “It’s a medical issue. We’re talking about generating and using clean wind energy as opposed to coal, which we know is dirty, has a lot of environmental impacts, and causes medical problems because of the pollution.”
Petty said if the statehouse does not continue to throw up roadblocks, Kirkwood resident could benefit within four years. The transmission line, unanimously approved by the PSC after five years of vetting, will be one of the state’s largest transmission infrastructure projects, with an estimated $525 million investment.
Unlike other large-scale economic development projects, the Grain Belt Express is not seeking state incentives. School districts and local jurisdictions in the eight counties on the development route will receive $7.2 million in tax revenues in its first year of operation. It will also creates trade, construction, and manufacturing jobs in Missouri.
Invenergy announces plans to add broadband infrastructure to Grain Belt Express – Transmission line to bring new infrastructure access to local internet service providers to expand broadband service for nearly one million rural Missourians
Invenergy-a leading Midwest-based developer, owner, and operator of sustainable energy solutions-and the company approved to build the Grain Belt Express transmission project, announced its plans to include broadband capability on the project infrastructure at no additional cost to Missouri communities or taxpayers. Discussions are underway with Missouri internet service providers who could use the infrastructure to provide internet for nearly one million underserved Missourians.
Eight rural counties in northern Missouri-Buchanan, Clinton, Caldwell, Carroll, Chariton, Randolph, Monroe, and Ralls will be home to the transmission line that will deliver low-cost, sustainable energy from western Kansas to customers in Missouri. Invenergy estimates show that more than a quarter million rural Missouri households, as well as schools and hospitals located within 50 miles of the Grain Belt Express route, do not have broadband access and would benefit from this new infrastructure.
Invenergy invests more than $160 million in communities that host its projects every year, through wages, benefits, landowner lease payments, and support for schools, veterans causes and organizations like the National FFA. “We are very invested in the communities where we develop and build projects and where Invenergy employees live and work,” said Beth Conley, spokeswoman for Invenergy. “Broadband is a natural fit for this project and, working with local internet service providers, we are pleased to add it to the list of benefits Grain Belt Express will deliver to Missouri.”
Many rural Missourians are still waiting on broadband access. In 2020, Missouri ranks 41st in the nation for broadband connectivity. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reports that 71% of Missouri’s rural population is without broadband access that meets the FCC’s broadband standard, compared to just 29% of the population overall, translating to hundreds of thousands of Missouri homes and businesses without access to at least one wired internet service provider.
Invenergy will seek permission from landowners to consolidate this infrastructure in project easements along the Missouri Public Service Commission approved route.