Missouri Prominent Estate Bill Again Targets Grain Belt Express Project
The bill is on track to go to a full vote in the State House, where it is expected to pass, but it faces longer chances in the Senate.
A bill that would hamper or possibly kill a major wind power transmission line project across Missouri is heading to the state House of Representatives.
A provision in SB 618 would essentially prevent the developers of Grain Belt Express from using a prominent domain to secure property along its intended route. The long-haul, high-voltage transmission line would move up to 4,000 megawatts of wind power from central Kansas through Missouri and Illinois. About three dozen Missouri utilities have pledged to purchase some of the electricity.
A House oversight and reform committee approved the language on Wednesday as state lawmakers convened again this week to pass a budget in a legislative session shortened by the pandemic. Language has support throughout the House but faces a less certain path in the Senate.
Developers of the struggling Grain Belt project have persisted for years despite regulatory disapproval, reluctant landowners and lawsuits. The Missouri Civil Service Commission finally gave its blessing to the vision a year ago.
Because the session is about to end, and because the language of the eminent domain earlier in the session did not go far, lawmakers decided to innovate this week. They discovered a bill originally drafted to change the way gas companies deal with government-imposed infrastructure charges. Then they attached an amendment essentially prohibiting the project developer, Invenergy, from employing a prominent estate along the Missouri section of the 780 mile highway. They also added a few sweeteners for the solar industry: a user tax exemption for state solar companies and a ban on homeowners’ associations banning solar panels.
The House Special Committee on Oversight and Regulatory Reform has approved the package, and the House is now expected to vote on it, probably next week.
Since the House has already approved the language of the eminent domain, the current bill “will have no problem getting through the House,” said Scott Bell, legislative assistant to Representative Jim Hansen, the project’s main sponsor. law in the House. His career in the Senate is a little less predictable, he said.
James Owen, executive director of clean energy advocate Renew Missouri, agreed the Senate will present a bigger hurdle: “This was always going to be the hardest route. “
Although a Senate committee approved the measure before the legislature left for a COVID-19 hiatus, Owen said there were a few Republican senators not at all keen on the language of the eminent domain.
Invenergy could not be reached for comment. The company probably could not proceed without the power to condemn private property. Many landowners along the route organized themselves, hired a volunteer lawyer, and in many cases refused to grant Invenergy permission to operate the line on their land.
Representative Hansen, who led the charge against the eminent domain of the legislature, is serving his last term in the General Assembly. And while he would be very happy to ban the use of the eminent domain before the end of his tenure, Bell said he must face the facts.
“We are hopeful, but we have to be realistic,” he said. For the majority of senators, “this is not the highest priority”.