The Houston-based wind company Clean Line Energy is not giving up on its Grain Belt Express wind transmission line. The ambitious project is designed to link Kansas wind farms with Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and other points east, but it hit a brick wall last summer when property owners in Missouri objected. Ever since then, Clean Line has been prepping for Round 2, and it is bringing some heavy artillery with it for the next go-around.
Wind Transmission Stalls In Missouri…
A years-long effort to assemble all the pieces for the complicated, multi-state Grain Belt Express wind transmission project almost concluded successfully last summer. The one holdout was Missouri, which would host a 206-mile stretch of the line.
However, on July 1, 2015, the Missouri Public Service Commission denied utility status for the wind transmission project, effectively killing it.
In a brief press release, the agency explained that although the company met the standards for showing that it is qualified and financially capable of providing the wind transmission service, it failed to meet three other criteria: a need for the project, economic feasibility, and in particular, serving the public interest:
The Commission determined GBE failed to prove the Project promotes the public interest. “In this case the evidence shows that any actual benefits to the general public from the Project are outweighed by the burdens on affected landowners. The Commission concludes that GBE has failed to meet its burden of proof to demonstrate that the Project as described in its application for a certificate of convenience and necessity promotes the public interest.”
…Try, Try Again
Although the wording was pretty stern, the vote was split 3-2, providing Clean Line with a good indication that a second try would be well worth the effort.
One key breakthrough came earlier this month, when the Missouri Joint Municipal Electric Utility Commission approved the purchase of long-term transmission service on the Grain Belt Express, as part of the public power agency’s efforts to boost its renewable energy portfolio.
Missouri ratepayers in the agency’s group of 67 utilities are expected to save $10 million and up yearly, so there’s your public benefit right there. Clean Line notes that the deal, which includes a power purchase agreement with a western Kansas wind generator, would mean a rate of less than 3 cents per kilowatt hour for up to 25 years
The expectation is that the Grain Belt Express will deliver 500 megawatts directly to the Missouri grid, instead of just passing through on its way to Illinois and Indiana.
MO Chamber Of Commerce Hearts Wind Power
The US Chamber of Commerce has gained some notoriety for its contrarian approach to climate change and clean power, but local chambers have been casting the shackles of the national group to the wind, so to speak.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry is a case in point. Last week, the MO Chamber put its weight fully behind the new wind transmission project. Along with the benefit to ratepayers, Chamber President and CEO Daniel Mehan cited Clean Line’s $500 million investment in the state, and the role that access to clean power plays in attracting (and keeping) business.
The Missouri-based companies General Cable, Hubbell Power Systems, and ABB are among those directly involved in the project. The construction contractor, PAR Electric, is based in Kansas but has pledged to hire Missouri workers when possible.
Coal-Killing (And Nuclear-Killing) Wind Power
Clean Line expects to re-file for the Grain Belt Express later this summer, and some property owners are gearing up for another fight, so stay tuned for that.
Meanwhile, the behemoth that is the midwestern wind industry marches on, leaving a trail of shuttered coal power plants in its wake.
Among major new developments in the wind pipeline, last spring another ambitious Clean Line wind transmission project called the Plains and Eastern Line got the go-ahead from the Energy Department.
Another example comes from Nebraska. The state has been lagging far behind Iowa and other midwestern states, but that’s set to change in a big way. The Nebraska Energy Office anticipates that the state could surge into the top tier of wind energy production in the US.
Coming on the heels of the Diablo Canyon shutdown in California, the outlook for nuclear power in the US is not looking any rosier than it is for coal.
Image (cropped): via Clean Line Energy.